Free wifi for Wellington

September 14th, 2010 at 1:00 pm by David Farrar

The Dom Post reports:

will have free access to high-speed wireless on the waterfront from December.

And the city council hopes to make free wi-fi a permanent fixture in the central business district in time for next year’s Rugby World Cup.

From December, anyone with an internet-capable smart phone, iPad or laptop computer will be able to connect free of charge between Queens Wharf and Te Papa within range of a waterfront server in the NZX building.

The initiative is the brainchild of Trade Me and is being paid for by the online auction company, in association with the council.

Great.

Wellington Mayor Kerry Prendergast said moves were already under way to expand the free wi-fi initiative to the city centre – subject to costs associated with the project. If successful, Wellington would be among the world’s first cities to offer residents and visitors free downtown wi-fi access.

The council was calling for expressions of interest to provide the service permanently around the Golden Mile.

A council graphic shows the proposed coverage stretches from Westpac Stadium to the Embassy end of Courtenay Place.

Positively Wellington Tourism chief executive David Perks said the initiative would make it easier for visitors to make the most of the city and tell others about it.

“Being able to access free wi-fi on the waterfront will mean our visitors can not only freely access information about where to go and what to do in the city, they can post photos of the picturesque harbour, public art and other attractions to their friends, families and digital networks throughout the world.”

I would not under-estimate how much extra tourism one could attract by promoting Wellington as a free wi-fi city. A huge number of travellers now travel with a laptop or 3G phone even.

The cost of wireless in hotels is outrageous at $30 or so a day.

Cafenet (run by ) used to be superb value. I recall in the 1990s how great it was to get 80 MB of data for just $20. Sadly Cafenet are still charging the same rice in 2010, despite the costs of bandwith being less than 1/10th what they were in the 1990s. They have gone from cheapest to most expensive.

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36 Responses to “Free wifi for Wellington”

  1. bearhunter (853 comments) says:

    Wow. Good-news-story about Fairfax-owned company appears on page one of Fairfax-owned newspaper. Who’da thunk it?

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  2. Murray (8,847 comments) says:

    This has some huge potential for selling Wellington to visitors.

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  3. Chthoniid (2,047 comments) says:

    Brilliant news. Suffered a lot in China with there being no wireless networks at all in the parts I visited. Having accessible and available wifi is really something travellers are starting to value.

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  4. youami (44 comments) says:

    Cool. I’ll just bring my laptop into work and get torrenting!

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  5. insider (1,028 comments) says:

    it’s much more likely you can overestimate its attraction value than underestimate.

    Do you seriously think anyone will spend the hundreds or thousands in travel costs to come to Wellington solely to enjoy $10 or so of free internet access?

    It may add a little to the overall package that is Wellington but the biggest effect is likely to be positive on the coffee shops in the area where you will see backpackers parked with laptops for hours on end, and negative on the internet cafes, where you won’t…

    Business travellers won’t care because they are here because they have to be here and it is just put on their travel expenses so free or not won’t matter. It’s not going to be the difference between selling a conference either.

    And youami points out one moral hazard. Not sure Wellington ratepayers will be keen on subsidising video piracy or unlimited facebook time for tourists. Why not bring in a free tourist circuit bus instead?

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  6. CJPhoto (227 comments) says:

    I searched the WCC website and only found the proposal from 2003. Cost didn’t seem much back then. Apart from internet cafe’s/etc it must be a positive.

    They should have time/data limits per day (to keep within budget, maybe with a cost after that??). It is very handy when traveling to be about to check emails without paying roaming costs.

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  7. Fletch (6,497 comments) says:

    Yeh, what youami said – the kids will be onto this quicker than Mallowpuffs vanish at a birthday party.
    I bet it won’t last for long, just like the “free” internet dial-up providers in the 90s.

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  8. Murray (8,847 comments) says:

    If its a choice betwen Wellington and Jafaland it will make a difference insider.

    as will the weather, the traffic, the people, the mayor, the price of a coffee, the culture, the views, the polution, the jafas…

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  9. Rex Widerstrom (5,354 comments) says:

    Wellington Mayor Kerry Prendergast said moves were already under way to expand the free wi-fi initiative to the city centre – subject to costs associated with the project.

    Providing free wifi isn’t the job of a council, whose revenue is derived from rates. The pilot is being run by a commercial enterprise; there’s no reason it can’t be rolled out by commercial enterprises.

    Council can help by ensuring there’s no restrictions on the success of the plan, like regulatory restrictions on siting the wifi servers. Oh, and stop giving out parking tickets to people wishing to actually stop in the city and make use of its shops, offices and wifi connections. Bit pointless having free wifi if those using it come out to find a bill from WCC sitting on their windscreens.

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  10. Repton (769 comments) says:

    Cool. I’ll just bring my laptop into work and get torrenting!

    If you actually read the article, you would see that they will be blocking P2P.

    It also says:

    Users would be logged out automatically after two hours to prevent commercial users pirating the free network, but individuals could then log on again manually.

    So they’re aware of the potential for abuse. Maybe it will still be abusable, but if so, I’m sure they’ll change things..

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  11. RightNow (7,013 comments) says:

    I’m hesitant to be negative about this before it’s even in place, but there are some obvious issues. Still, I do think it’s a good initiative. Even if someone ends up getting say 32kbps it’s better than nothing.
    Also it’s pretty easy to block torrent and other undesirable traffic. I imagine there’ll be a net-nanny type of filter in place as well.

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  12. MikeE (555 comments) says:

    Its not free if its ratepayer funded now is it…

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  13. dime (10,134 comments) says:

    Nice. We should have a shitload more free broadband!

    Cant the govt throw a bill or two at it? we have lots in the bank! Labour are happy to keep spending!

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  14. gazzmaniac (2,307 comments) says:

    People should just buy XT modems – the XT network is fairly quick (unlike Vodafone), and it’s not as expensive as what everyone makes out, $10/month is plenty if you’re only checking email (I got a free modem, but even so $100 isn’t too dear for a modem). It’s affordable for anyone except the poorest tourists to be self reliant for internet if they so desire – and any that are that poor won’t be spending much anyway. The argument for attracting tourists is pretty poor really.
    There isn’t a need for free wifi provided by the council.

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  15. ben (2,384 comments) says:

    How is this great David? Cafenet and every other provider of public wifi in downtown Wellington will now leave the market, expropriated. The council wifi will, I predict, be of low quality, and it will suffer severe free riding problems that are usual for public commons. Clever people (this is Wellington, after all) will circumvent whatever protections the council tries to impose to stop people downloading terabytes of data each month. The only question then will be whether it is more politically expensive to kill the project entirely and leave Wellington bereft of any data service besides cellular 3G, or put up with the enormous data fees.

    And if broadband access is appropriately given away by government, then what isn’t? Would be nice to see a bit of consistency here, David. You seem to be all in favour of government subsidising just the things you’re expert on and care about. Since when was wifi an essential service? Businesses are perfecly capable of providing an ad-supported free network themselves – that they don’t tells you something about the merit of the concept (or perhaps the threat of the council coming in and pushing them under). There is no need for a council to come in with goodies courtesy of the long suffering tax payer.

    I have a Cafenet account – yes, it is not cheap on a per MB basis, but that isn’t the right way to think about it. I buy 80Mb about once a year and use it to check email from town throughout the year when I have a few minutes and a laptop. Its actually very very good value.

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  16. KiwiGreg (3,260 comments) says:

    They should give away free food, booze, and accomodation too, that will attract heaps of visitors. The benefits will be immense. And because its free there’s no cost!! Genius!!!

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  17. ben (2,384 comments) says:

    Cool. I’ll just bring my laptop into work and get torrenting!

    If you actually read the article, you would see that they will be blocking P2P.

    Have you never heard of proxy servers? Or FTP from a remote P2P server? If you haven’t, you soon will courtesy of your council. This has tragedy of the commons written all over it. If the commons, in this case wifi, can be exploited anonymously then there is no protection against overuse.

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  18. RRM (10,034 comments) says:

    The waterfront on a good day is mobbed by tourists with their cameras out. As others have said, if half of those photos are going straight up onto facebook that’s the best marketing Wellington could buy.

    PS – Citizens of Palmerston Hole or anywhere else need not comment on this thread about proposed WCC expenditure :-P

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  19. wreck1080 (3,972 comments) says:

    Both NZ and Australia are way behind in providing cheap or free wi-fi.

    I recall, a couple of years ago staying in an Australian hotel advertising as having ‘internet’.

    Turned up, and their ‘internet’, was a phone line into which you plug your notebook and dial in to your ISP. ie, they were basically providing a phone line through which you could use dial-up internet – but , only if you were with an Australian provider of course and you had to pay astronomical per-minute phone calling rates.

    Having recently travelled to north america, noticed all places we stayed offered free internet. Even the campground in the middle of a bunch of mountains had free wi-fi.

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  20. labrator (1,850 comments) says:

    TradeMe is providing this for free so ratepayers aren’t paying (Scoop article with more detail), so it’s more like Google free. Although I had heard that POP and SMTP will be blocked so you won’t be able to check your emails on it making it pretty pointless. I hope that info is wrong.

    In terms of market, TradeMe is free to do what they want, I don’t think any council should get into this sort of service provision. Mobile data rates on prepay are good enough and getting cheaper thanks to the arrival of 2degrees.

    @RRM Wellington has its fair share of crap days, maybe it’d be better for people to not find out the truth about Wellington’s weather!

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  21. Sandgroper (1 comment) says:

    Free wifi has been available in part of the resources precinct of the Perth CBD, courtesy of the big mining companies, for several years.

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  22. Repton (769 comments) says:

    Have you never heard of proxy servers? Or FTP from a remote P2P server?

    I’ve heard of traffic shaping, and metering. I’m sure they have plenty of options to make P2P at least impractical.

    And if broadband access is appropriately given away by government, then what isn’t?

    You might like to read the article again.

    Heck, I”ll quote for you:

    The initiative is the brainchild of Trade Me and is being paid for by the online auction company

    It sounds like the council is helping out with publicity, but TradeMe is bankrolling it.

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  23. gazzmaniac (2,307 comments) says:

    @Repton – until Trademe pull the plug.

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  24. RightNow (7,013 comments) says:

    ben – I’m sure many people will try to rip off the free service, but as Repton says it’s not hard to make it impractical, if not impossible.
    For example if each user was limited to 32kbps bandwidth, the most they can download in a 2 hour period is 28.8MB – then they get kicked off and have to re-authenticate. If they have the time to spare to keep doing that I won’t begrudge them getting free internet from trademe.

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  25. ben (2,384 comments) says:

    RightNow – except it’s wifi and the council specifically promised it will be fast. Ok they could make it run like dial up (and, incidentally, I predict that is exactly what it will end up being due to free riders – not through design) but then what’s the point of rolling out a near-useless service that embarrasses Wellington?

    But, let’s say they do cap it at 28 Mb per two hours. Who are the people who are going to make the most use of this? Permanent residents who download torrents, that’s who. People who aren’t especially speed sensitive, unlike a laptop user looking for the next attraction to go visit, a torrent downloader can set something downloading for days at a time without any trouble. And so they will.

    I also confidently predict users will easily find ways around any protection – there is hundreds of dollars worth of free broadband at stake for each of them, and it only takes one to find a way through and then publish the method on line. And that’s exactly what they will do.

    And anything is practical if it can be automated. It isn’t hard to set a laptop to periodically reconnect, for example.

    Furthermore, being public domain it will be hard and perhaps impossible to trace the identity of each downloader. Now who is most keen on complete online anonymity? I’ll give you a clue: it isn’t the people sharing legitimate data.

    Yes, you can point to America and note all hell has not broken loose – but then data is cheap in America, which is why free wifi is so widespread. The fact that data is so expensive here makes this scheme a treasure trove for all the wrong people.

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  26. gazzmaniac (2,307 comments) says:

    For 32kbps I don’t see why you’d even bother. Using it at all, that is.

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  27. ben (2,384 comments) says:

    Repton – yes, it looks like Trademe will be paying the bills. But there can be only one reason the Council is involved at all. They, too, will be spending money on it, and perhaps quite a bit. But, yes, it is Trademe that will be ultimately holding the can.

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  28. RightNow (7,013 comments) says:

    First – I’m only speculating on bandwidth throttling (and the 32kbps was a figure plucked out of my something). It is always the case that a wireless access point has X bandwidth shared among Y users (and is why I’ll always opt for wired over wireless when I can), so there is going to be limits to how fast this could work.
    But in providing this capability it seems fairer to slow everyone down to dial up speed than to give the first 20 people broadband speed and not allow the next 120 people to connect until someone else disconnects (a la the old days of having 60 ports for 3000 dial up users to compete for).
    Second – stopping abuse is possible depending on what sort of firewalling they put in place. It is easy to block torrent traffic. I would expect that they will net-nanny the connection too (possibly using the DIA opt-in filter thingy).

    I’d actually speculate that they’ll simply block all ports except port 80 – i.e. http (web browsing traffic)

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  29. Poliwatch (335 comments) says:

    Free wifi in the Hamilton CBD is also coming SOON.

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  30. ben (2,384 comments) says:

    Heck if they can make it work, good luck to them. I would love to be proved wrong on this. And if Trademe’s paying the bills, then no complaints.

    But (there was always going to be a but) when Trademe pulls the plug are we going to see the council take over? For my money – yes we will, and yet another expansion of government and yet another nationalised service to be run badly and expensively by the endlessly incompetent though no doubt well-meaning public sector. And once Wellington does it, everyone else is going to expect it. And so on.

    I 100% respect Trademe’s right to do what they want with their well-earned money. I struggle to see why the council is involved at all, though, and subsidies either implicit or explicit look likely. To the detriment of the country. But again – very happy to be proved wrong.

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  31. labrator (1,850 comments) says:

    Seems the council is involved to ok the location and provision of wireless access point locations. Otherwise trademe would need to seek permission on all of the APs themselves. This is probably an RMA request. I guess the council is basically coming onside to speed up the process.

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  32. adamsmith1922 (890 comments) says:

    A number of coffee shops provide Tomizone which is relatively cheap. In fact Esquire often give you a token for 1 hour or 60 Mb if you buy one coffee. Furthermore you can set up an account with Tomizone and then use it in Auckland, also quite a few places overseas.

    Cafenet not too bad, but my quota leaked recently, but they reinstated it. Currently $80 for 350 Mb.

    There is a risk that a number of locations with wi-fi will take out their links, and then what happens when Fairfax decide to wind the service back.

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  33. RightNow (7,013 comments) says:

    Perhaps we’ll see a mini free market at play. If the free wireless service turns out to be problematic then it may work in favour of those providing a user pays service. I think also that the zone they are talking about is probably not currently comprehensively covered by commercial providers.

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  34. adamsmith1922 (890 comments) says:

    NZ Hotel charges for internet are totally out of step with elsewhere in the world. Often it is around 430 for 50 mb an absolute disgrace.

    One hotel I cam across offered free internet – 20 minutes a day and 15 mb limit Outrageous

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  35. Rex Widerstrom (5,354 comments) says:

    Poliwatch suggests:

    Free wifi in the Hamilton CBD is also coming SOON.

    Sure you’re not confusing it with the wireless tracking of all the people there who are on home detention? :-P

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  36. ben (2,384 comments) says:

    Rightnow – yes it could go that way (and hopefully so). But that’s basically what we have now.

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