Free Wi-Fi to roll out across South Lakeland town centres

Town centre Wi-Fi

A pilot project which provides free internet access in the centre of Kendal has been declared a success, and there are now plans to launch a bigger and better version across the district.

Providing high-speed internet access in the town centre, the SLDC project saw shoppers log on to the free Wi-Fi more than 22,000 times between March 2015 and the end of the year.

Cllr Giles Archibald, portfolio holder for economic growth, town centres and small businesses, said: “Internet access brings obvious positives to the many thousands of people who visit the district, whether they are on a shopping trip, leisure break or business.

“By embracing this new technology we can help enhance the visitor experience to our town centres. We hope this will mean people want to spend longer there, making town centres more vibrant and economically-viable.

“This is an ambitious initiative and if we can pull it off, South Lakeland will be one of the first areas in the country to have such widely-available free internet access. This will help meet the digital ambitions of the area and demonstrate the council’s commitment to supporting town centres and the local economy.”

The scheme allows anyone with a Wi-Fi-enabled device to log on to the internet for no charge – perfect for residents and visitors who want to check emails, log on to social media or find out more about what’s happening in the town while they do some shopping or have a coffee.

Following consultation with Regional Network Solutions, who have guided similar schemes in Carlisle and York, the council is now looking to expand the internet coverage and introduce it into other town centres in the district, potentially including Ulverston, Ambleside, Bowness and Windermere.

During the pilot period almost 12,000 people signed up to the service, which saw the installation of five antenna around Kendal and offers coverage on the main streets in the town centre.

Moving forward, there is an annual maintenance fee of around £6,000 and the expansion of the scheme into other towns would mean additional costs. And so the council is in discussion with existing Wi-Fi providers who would take on the operation of the Wi-Fi. This would allow continued free access, with revenue generated through advertising.

SLDC is in consultation with a number of interested Wi-Fi providers, with the hope that work can begin on the service during July 2016.

The chosen provider will be given access to SLDC and Cumbria County Council assets, where antenna can be located. In return for offering the free Wi-Fi, income will be generated through sponsorship of the ‘landing page’, where interested businesses will also be able to purchase advertising space.

The final list of towns where the service will be available has not been confirmed and will be part of the ongoing discussions with potential providers.