Town Council agree £48k public wifi plan – but is that a good use of your money?
In an age of multiple wifi access points and relatively cheap mobile data is a £48,000 Sutton Coldfield Town Council public wifi investment good value for money?
The Town Council seem to think so as members voted in favour of the recommendation made by the Finance & General Purposes Committee at Wednesday’s meeting, but would this be your choice in the use for your precept money? Is the Town Council behind the times when it comes to accessing the interwebs on mobile devices?
I’m not sure I would consider it money well spent – after all, I can’t remember the last time I needed an Internet connection while in Sutton Coldfield town centre and couldn’t find one.
Want to access the net while having coffee? The cafes and coffee shops have wifi. Shopping? Well the Gracechurch Centre has free wifi as do a number of individual shops such as Waterstones. With Virgin Media or BT? There are a number of hotspots that can be used for free. Travelling into Sutton by public transport? Use the free wifi to check the town out before you get here. And then of course there is the library, which not only provides free wifi but computers to access it on. With the exception of BT, I’ve used all of those and on the rare occasion I have been too far from the town centre to benefit I have switched to 4g mobile data.
That’s just my experience of course and an opinion based on the idea of the implementation of public wifi purely to support the Town Centre. There could be other reasons for the £48,000 investment that I have missed or maybe I’m not the target market. But is it just me that finds the objectives unclear?
A company used by the Town Council to produce a report into their wifi options concluded that:
‘The purpose of the Sutton Coldfield Wi-Fi network is uncertain. It is recommended that RSCTC defines the target audience(s) for public Wi-Fi in Sutton Coldfield, and considers the recommendations below prior to progressing with the project. This can be achieved either prior to commissioning a Wi-Fi provider, or during the commissioning phase of works.’
In terms of wifi to support the activities of the town centre the report went on to say that:
‘A public Wi-Fi network alone will not re-energise town centre businesses and services, and if this is the objective of the Wi-Fi network for Sutton Coldfield town centre, it should not yet be delivered. This goal is better delivered through capacity and skills training for interested businesses and community organisations, building their confidence in using digital tools as part of their day-to-day management and marketing activity, ensuring these groups are easily and simply discoverable via mainstream search engines, such as Google, and industry-specific platforms, such as OpenTable, and that they can trade online via eBay or Amazon Marketplace. Lloyds Bank6 found that the most digitally mature organisations are 64% more likely to report increased turnover than their non-digital counterparts.
The current redesign of the RSCTC website, and potential development of companion social media channels and shared promotional activity with other local stakeholders, will also contribute to broader business and service sustainability. While a Wi-Fi network may promote the RSCTC website and business offer, the user is inevitably already in the town centre. As mentioned earlier, consumers (shoppers, tourists, residents, workers, investors) are increasingly combining online and offline (word of mouth, flyers) information when planning where to eat, shop, invest or call home. Engaging with the Connected Consumer prior to their arrival in a town centre is key, irrespective of whether this is for an individual business offer or promoting an event or cultural offer delivered by RSCTC. A Wi-Fi network will not achieve this.’
So what about using public wifi to promote Sutton Coldfield Town Council activity? (It is certainly needed):
‘…if promoting RSCTC activity is the objective of the Wi-Fi network for Sutton Coldfield town centre, it should not yet be delivered until a broader engagement strategy has been confirmed. Developing multiple touchpoints, and ensuring these ‘talk’ to one another through common branding and ambition is essential to establish a strong, clear place identity for Sutton Coldfield.’
In addition to the public wifi, the report recommends a new website just 12 months after the Council paid £2,880 for the current one. Let’s hope that this time the tender will be widely promoted.