It seems that NSW is going back to the future when it comes to the subject of telecommunications, or perhaps its just going backwards. After years of spruiking the benefits of having urban WiFi hot spots within large urban areas in NSW, the state government has allowed another good idea to bite the dust.
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In shades of the T-card electronic ticket debacle, Eric Roozendaal, the Minister for Commerce has announced the once-promised free wireless broadband network for the Sydney CBD and other major urban centres would be killed off due to financial concerns.
This he said was because the Government had carefully evaluated proposals from a number of WiFi network providers but found it “wasn’t practical” and was in fact “financially unviable” – or in other words, it cost too much and there were no votes in it.
NSW Premier, Morris Iemma, first announced the free broadband idea in late 2006, saying it would boost the NSW economy by making it more attractive to hi-tech businesses, particularly those with mobile workers.
To be fair to Roozendaal, in the US, similar free wireless schemes in cities like Chicago, and San Francisco have been also scrapped after failing commercially. Although at the same time, in other places like Estonia and some Scandinavian countries, free public wireless broadband has been a resounding success.
According to a newspaper interview, Roozendaal claimed that most cities in NSW already had “free wireless internet points in libraries and in some commercial venues like hotels and cafes”, and that “most major telcos now sold wireless broadband.”
What Roozedaal did not say though is that these major telcos may well provide wireless broadband, but its reliability has been called into question and it is hardly free.
Moreover, after announcing this decision, some commentators noted that when it comes to new technology, the NSW government is in the same league as the previous Howard Federal regime- using IT infrastructure as a PR spin tool but not doing much about implementing it.