Wireless communication is now integral to the social, economic and cultural life of cities and will become increasingly so as Internet of Things (IOT) technologies alter existing urban processes and generate entirely new ones. Although wireless connectivity engages almost all aspects of urban governance, management of the underpinning infrastructure is essentially a new field of activity for city governments. Telecommunications and spectrum management has always been a national policy domain and telecommunication infrastructure and services have been provided by the private sector over the past 25 years.
The rapid rollout of public wi-fi is the first substantive engagement of Australian city governments in wireless infrastructure policy and practice. Over the past five years, investment by state and municipal governments has yielded operational networks in capital city CBDs, many suburban centres and regional cities, and even some smaller towns. While investment rationales have focused on benefits that might accrue from providing communication services to citizens and tourists, city governments are beginning to appreciate the value that data derived from network users could have in the actual enterprise of governing. However, realising the potential of public wi-fi to inform smarter city government is not proving straightforward.
Drawing on field research, and legal and policy analysis, this paper discusses two barriers to public wifi informed smarter city ambitions: local authority procurement decisions and local human resource limitations. We argue that the combination of these factors has contributed to the privatisation of public wi-fi data and diminished the public value of local network investment.