Wi-Fi: urban infrastructure

Public Wi-Fi as Urban Infrastructure: The Australian Case

Support: ARC Discovery Project DP150102818

Chief/Partner Investigators:
Dr Ian McShane (RMIT), Dr Mark Gregory (RMIT), Dr Prateek Goorha (RMIT), and Prof Catherine Middleton (Ryerson University)

Timeframe: 2015-2018

This research positions publicly provided Wi-Fi as a type of urban and civic infrastructure and asks whether there is a sound case for local government investment in public Wi-Fi networks.

Australian local government authorities (LGAs) are increasingly investing in the provision of free internet in public spaces using Wi-Fi technology, and supporting civic activism in this area. These significant developments in Australian urban infrastructure and telecommunications are propelled by the rapid and radical transformation of social, commercial and governmental engagement with mobile connectivity.

In line with international trends, Australian LGAs advance a range of public good and market failure arguments for their investment in Wi-Fi. But there has been no detailed research on the provision, use and impact of public Wi-Fi as a new form of civic or urban infrastructure. This means that the case for LGA investment in an area that has so far been the domain of the private sector has yet to be clarified or tested. This has important consequences, not only for municipal services and budgets, but also for local-level private and social enterprise, and for national policy formation in areas such as broadband and spectrum allocation. Our project aims to fill this knowledge gap by critically examining and evaluating the provision, use and impact of public Wi-Fi networks funded by LGAs in Australia.