update Central business districts of key cities in New South Wales will get free Wi-Fi broadband within the next three years, under a plan announced today by the state's premier Morris Iemma.
The NSW state government will in early 2007 go shopping for suppliers to establish "universal coverage" of free Wi-Fi in Sydney's central business district (including North Sydney), in addition to the suburbs of Parramatta, Penrith and Liverpool and outlying cities Newcastle, Wollongong and Gosford.
Iemma announced the move this morning as a part of a statement on innovation released by his government. In a statement, he said the state government would look to make the free Wi-Fi a reality in the next three years.
"As one of the world's great cities to do business, visit or live in, Sydney deserves state of the art broadband coverage accessible by everyone," the Premier said.
"Universal access to wireless broadband in our CBDs will further boost the state's economy and make NSW more attractive for expanding or new businesses."
In early 2007, the state government will launch an expressions of interest project to find commercial parties interested in providing the free broadband.
The EOI will specify that the government is seeking interested parties to "build, own and maintain their own wireless broadband network", and that the network will have "extensive indoor and outdoor coverage", at a minimum, of the CBDs of the areas listed above.
"The government envisages it may be able to provide access to government buildings, water tanks and towers, parking ramps, street and traffic lights, etc, to assist the provider to set up the required infrastructure," said Iemma's statement.
The state government expects to make a decision on responses to that EOI by the second quarter of the 2007 calendar year. "The government sees itself as a facilitator between local, state government and the provider," the statement said.
The statement noted that governments in North America and Europe were currently examining various models to provide wireless infrastructure. For example, similar initiatives are under way in San Francisco and Mountain View, Philadelphia, Paris and in the UK.
Iemma's statement also address the question of whether NSW's initiative would undercut existing wireless broadband providers and Internet cafes.
The statement said the state wanted to stimulate the broadband market and get more people using it, not less. "All existing providers are encouraged to participate in the EOI," the statement said.
"Wireless broadband will never replace wired broadband... Many people, particularly visitors, will still prefer to access Internet cafes which have high speed wired broadband access and which will allow them to travel without a laptop."
Iemma's move comes as competition in the wireless broadband market is entering fever pitch, with large telcos launching upgraded services every few months based on the WiMAX or 3G standards.