Westminster launches UK's largest Internet kiosk network

Twelve outdoor Internet points are to be piloted in central London, offering free access to passers-by

Westminster City Council launched a network of 12 outdoor Internet kiosks today, as part of a growing scheme to close the digital divide in Britain.

The i-plus points -- a joint initiative between technology company Cityspace and street furniture firm Adshel -- will provide free and accessible online services to residents and tourists, offering a convenient way for people to obtain local information, or communicate concerns about the area with their town councillor. It will also encorporate a free email service for incoming messages only.

"Westminster is one of the busiest areas of London, with an average daytime population of one million people, and the information points will provide them with up-to-the-minute, convenient information," said Robert Davis, chairman of customer services at Westminster City Council.

The flagship kiosk was opened in Oxford Street this morning, with a further 11 to be piloted in busy locations such as Bayswater and Victoria Street, and residential areas like Queen's Park and Pimlico. Local councils will host services on the i-plus points along the lines of Streetscene, which allows locals to alert the council to faults in the area such as out of order streetlights or litter problems. A further channel called e-street will contain details of events in the area and information about local shopping and entertainment facilities.

A job channel -- partnered with online recruitment company jobchannel.tv -- provides information on current employment opportunities in the area. Job specifications and application details listed on the service can either be printed off free of charge from the kiosk, or automatically sent as a text message to the customer's mobile phone.

Research company Netpoll has been tracking the success of existing i-plus points in London and Bristol. The kiosks are currently being visited by 100,000 users a month, with each point receiving an average of 50 unique user sessions a day. Alex Ward Booth, analyst at Netpoll, said 97 percent of i-plus users questioned thought that the i-plus point was a good initiative, while 89 percent of users said that they would use the kiosks again.

"The walled garden idea gives people confidence in using the points -- many users have been people not certain about accessing the Internet through a PC," explained Ward Booth. "Restricted access removes the fear factor, and gives them confidence in the Net as they are guided through."

Seventy-two percent of existing i-point users also claimed that they found the kiosks easy to use, and 80 percent thought that the kiosks were conveniently located.

"When you have great locations such as Oxford Street, people will approach the service," said a spokeswoman for Cityspace. "There will be a resistance from older people towards the new technology, but that is why we wanted a user-friendly interface."

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