Having a device, whether a laptop, tablet or phone, is just part of a solution for people who are digitally excluded. It’s also about having internet access. With the cost-of-living crisis, many people are facing tough choices, and internet access is one of the things people feel they should cut back on. Yet having internet access is almost the same as having other utilities. It enables people to do essential things, like making doctor’s appointments, ordering prescriptions, shopping, operating home appliances and keeping in touch with family and friends. And not having connectivity will only increase the digital divide and, ultimately, health and social inequalities.
Creating the map
To help those whose budgets are already stretched to get online without the worry of paying for their data, we decided to map the places in Stockport where free wifi is available. Places like libraries, businesses and community organisations. Mapping this information would help us to show residents who are in need where free internet access is available. And knowing which areas require the most support also helps the council to focus its services in order to help those residents.
The legwork for the first version of the wifi map was done by Tanya King from Stockport Homes. All the information that she collected was brought together by our Business Intelligence team and added to the Digital Inclusion dashboard that they manage. However, this dashboard is an internal tool for use by Stockport Council colleagues. The only way we could share the information with partners was to export a static version. Our partners were keen to have access to the map, and we set out to develop an interactive map, which we have now published on our website for all to use: Free wifi map.
In compiling the data for the free wifi map, aside from the local schemes, libraries and community organisations, it became clear just how few businesses offer, or advertise that they offer, free wifi. We’ve reached out to Totally Stockport, a local organisation implementing a Business Improvement District (BID) in the town centre. Their offer of free wifi has also been added to our map.
As more locations are gathered in future, these will be added to Stockport’s Free wifi map to keep residents informed on where to go. On a cautionary note, we have no means to identify internet speed, stability, downtime, or when that offer comes to an end. We would always recommend that residents use the local authority’s services in the first instance, and libraries in particular, where they will be able to access reliable free wifi and also a plethora of other services that might be beneficial in the current climate.
Who is it for?
Now, more than ever, people are struggling with the everyday cost of living. Being able to go online to check emails, contact families and friends, and access benefits and other essential services by completing forms is not a luxury. It’s a vital utility, even a lifeline for some, as by being digitally included, they gain the confidence to become socially included.
Our DigiKnow partners are already using the map to support residents:
The map is an easy to use and efficient way of knowing where people can access free wifi in Stockport. The cost-of-living crisis has meant wifi and data have become a luxury for many residents of Stockport, so it’s handy for our Keyworkers to be able to share the map with the people they support, so they can update their Universal Credit journals, apply for jobs and manage their utilities. It also means they can stay in touch with family and friends.
We know that people are cancelling their broadband due to the cost of living and relying on phone data. This is a fantastic map that will help our learners who rely on mobile data to be able to get online with their limited budget, particularly when they are out and about in town. We know that job seekers in our classes spend a lot of time online searching for work. This map is a really easy way to find a warm space to work in if things are tough at home.
I like this map, it will be useful if I need to use the internet in the town. There are more places than I thought with free wifi. The colour coding makes it easier too.
The data is by no means complete but we will build on what’s available now and continue to update the information. There’s an ongoing project both to discover and add other free wifi locations and to encourage businesses to open up their wifi to the public.
We really need your help, so if you know of any locations in Stockport that offer free wifi, please email us.
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