Needy communities win free wi-fi

Deprived and isolated areas are given wireless hotspots for three years
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Deprived and isolated areas are given wireless hotspots for three years

46 communities across the UK have been awarded three years of free wireless internet, regardless of the current connectivity in the area.

Areas from Orkney to Devon will benefit from the scheme, which is aimed at isolated and deprived communities in need of improved internet access.

Freerunner, the free public wi-fi network behind the scheme, received over 500 entries since launching the competition in September. Applications received from groups including charities, religious groups and community centres were judged by Freerunner’s board, with winners selected based on how much of an impact the prize would make.

Owen Geddes, CEO of Freerunner, said: “We wanted to start with those most in need so we put the call out and the response was pretty overwhelming. It is incredible to think that a small piece of relatively low cost technology is going to fundamentally change nearly 50 communities across the UK.”

One of the winning communities was the Black Country Learning Academy, a private non-profit IT academy based in a deprived area of Wolverhampton.

Ian Johnson, project leader for the Academy said: “Many people in our area have never been online and know little about IT. Freerunner’s WiFi means we can set up new internet enabled computers allowing us to run more literacy, numeracy, IT and UK-Online courses, improving the employment prospects of people across the region”.

Freerunner, sponsored by broadband supplier BE, is using a combination of traditional broadband, satellite and 3G technology to connect underserved or remote communities.

Two of the most isolated communities to have won the competition are Stromness, a rural town in Orkney with a population of 2,000, and Torrington in north Devon.