Spain uses free WiFi as economic booster

MADRID -- Spain uses free WiFi on public transportation and in tourist areas to boost economy.

MADRID--In Madrid, free WiFi came first to buses, now to trains, but not to the metro yet. Well, two out of three ain't bad, as Spanish transportation and local governments use free WiFi as a way to boost the struggling economy.

Last year, Madrid became the first city in the world to offer free WiFi on an entire transportation line. Just last week, Spanish-owned Renfe--most recently known for winning the bid to build the rail from Medina to Mecca--announced they are implementing free WiFi on all their trains.

This is a way that Renfe, especially with their AVE high-speed trains, is trying to further compete with the often less expensive discount airlines, like RyanAir and EasyJet. They are hoping to attract businesses that want to purchase tickets for employees, who can then work while commuting, as well as have the convenience of much quicker travel check-ins. With this competitive edge in mind, since 2004, all AVE trains have had a plug at each seat for recharging laptops and the like.

The trains, even the Madrid Cercanias line, will attract longer ride travelers, while the WiFi on Madrid buses attracts the short-term commuters.

Madrileño student Nacho López said he started using the free WiFi on buses as soon as it was released in 2010. "I used it with my iTouch...checking e-mail, Facebook, GoogleMaps, read some newspapers, chat," he said. "Usually it worked well, but not too fast. Other times it didn't work. But I think it is a good improvement for the public transport. I don't know if metro is going to do the same."

Adriana Santos, a Madrid-based English as a foreign language teacher, uses the WiFi during her bus commutes between her classes located all over Madrid. "I have used it (WiFi,) not daily, but any time I get on the bus and I have my iPhone with me."

However, Santos said that it has not been working as well in the last two weeks. "A page used to pop up (to connect,) and if it does, it's really slow, and if I try to connect, it's not strong enough to connect to my e-mail."

There is a new free application needed to be downloaded at home through the GOWEX free WiFi service, however this information has not been widely spread.

Public transit is not the only one looking at WiFi as a Band-aid for the recession. In August, the city of Madrid announced that it was going to start creating free WiFi spots in popular areas to boost the economy. The first place was the heart of Madrid tourism in Plaza Mayor. The key industry of tourism has been down in Madrid since the crisis began. The local government thought free WiFi would be a good way to attract both tourists and locals to the much more expensive cafes inside the Plaza. Plus, now tourists can immediately upload their photos with Plaza Mayor celebrity "Fat Spiderman" to Facebook.

It took more than a year to find WiFi on buses and it is still shaky. Only time will tell in a few months if the trains' WiFi will function well, if customers will utilize it, and if it will boost sales.

Photo: AcidCow

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