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Where’s Our WiFi – August 2010 Update

The tax paying residents of Swindon continue to ask where the promised Digital City/Swindon Borough Council operated WiFi network is, and after Cllr Garry Perkins – Deputy leader of the council and Director of Digital City (UK) Ltd – bizarrely refused to answer questions on the subject at a recent council meeting, it once again falls to a member of the public to inform other members of the public what is happening to their ‘investment’.

Some of you may have noticed Roger Ogle published a WIFi related story in the August edition of the Link Magazine.  Apart from stating that the Audit Commission had ‘ratified’ the WiFi decisions taken by the Borough Council – It didn’t ‘ratify’ anything, it merely stated that it found no evidence of an illegal act taking place – it was quite an informative piece because it went some way to answering the questions that Cllr Perkins found too difficult and which also saw Rikki Hunt blaming ‘delays in getting council funds’ for the scheme now being many months behind schedule.

I can tell readers, with a higher degree of honesty than you’ll get from official channels, that the ‘delay’ Mr Hunt suffered in getting his hands on the publicly funded loan to his company  should have been no longer than 14 days.  This ‘delay’ may have been caused by members of the public asking legitimate and searching questions about the scheme. Questions which should have been asked by the council itself well before the £450,000 public loan was ever agreed.  Unfortunately for Mr Hunt, and probably the public purse, the public and the council council were both prevented from asking any questions prior to the loan being agreed and contract signed because Cllr’s Bluh and Edwards ‘did the deal’ secretly, thereby deliberately preventing the entire council from properly scrutinising the arrangement before it had begun.  As it turned out Cllr Bluh still managed to circumvent much of the subsequent public scrutiny process in his rush to release the remainder of the loan to Digital City (UK) Ltd, and managed to do so before many questions had been satisfactorily and fully answered.   Just another day at the office for the democratic Councillor Bluh.

So where’s our WiFi now?

Industry sources tell me that nothing has yet been installed in Swindon Town centre and that Highworth still remains unfinished despite Mr Hunt telling the Link magazine that technical problems there had been overcome.  I suspect that the project in Highworth remains stalled because there is a shortage of lamposts in appropriate positions although this hasn’t prevented Mr Hunt from trying out some interesting applications, (probably telemedicine, CCTV and the energy monitoring he mentioned a while back), on the residents of a well known sheltered housing scheme in Highworth.  Are we witnessing the birth of  ‘Digital Wardens’ in Swindon I wonder?

A little gentle sniffing around further afield reveals that Mr Hunt has been approaching other bodies for funding, notably the soon-to-be-axed RDA, (Regional Development Agency), and submitting multiple bids to the Governments Technology Strategy Board, and not forgetting his approaches to several  local authorities, some of which might just be daft enough to lend out money based on an unfinished pilot project which still has a mere handful of paying customers (under 20)  after 7 months of operation.  Bluh was stupid enough to buy into it, and I expect he’s been hawking around his Local Government Association pals whenever he can…..

There are still about 600 people using the free-service in Highworth although Mr Hunt is greatly cheered by approximately 25 users pre-registering for the ‘upgrade’ to the £9.99 subscription service.  I hope this number accelerates rapidly upwards because I’d like nothing better than to see Digital City (UK) Ltd being able to pay the public loan of £450,000 back, in full, as promised, by December 2011.  I have to say that, based on DC’s performance so far, I’m not at all confident.

About 2,700 people elsewhere in the borough have expressed an interest in having, or have actually applied for, the WiFi free-service as, when or if it becomes available to them.

Although Digital City still claim that their intention is still to cover the entire Borough with its ‘mesh’, I am not taking this statement at face-value because I understand some businesses on trading estates have already been told that their locations will be looked at individually on a ‘business case’ basis.  Presumably industrial estates will largely remain hard-wired with their existing providers unless they happen to next to a Council owned public building or school on which Digital City can easily, and cheaply, install their equipment.

I wouldn’t get too excited about this if I were the proprietor of a small to medium sized business because, I am afraid, Mr Hunt has already passed you by in his rush to schmooze the local authority in Bathgate, (West Lothian), where he is scheduled to begin conducting  a ‘WiFi feasibility study’ on the 3rd of August 2010.  Readers may wish to keep an eye on the local paper in Bathgate, the West Lothian Courier, to read the almost inevitable Digital City press-release as soon as it appears.

Speaking of the press, contacts in the local media tell me that Mr Hunt appears to be gearing up for a frenzy of activity in Mid August.  I expect this will centre around news that new ‘interest’ in the scheme has been shown, by which I also mean ‘new funding has been obtained’.   Swindon Borough Council remains tight-lipped although I’m told there’s a lot of nervous buttock-clenching still going on around the WiFi’asco.

Further updates as and when…..

Posted on
Monday, August 2nd, 2010
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Swindon WiFi.
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August 2nd, 2010