Free Fringe wi-fi plan fails as firm goes bust

Outdoor wi-fi is on hold for now. Picture: Greg Macvean

Outdoor wi-fi is on hold for now. Picture: Greg Macvean

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A DEAL to roll out free wi-fi across the city centre by festival season has collapsed after the provider went bust.

Free urban broadband access was due to be running by the end of the month in central areas including Leith, Portobello, Morningside and Gorgie as the Capital moved to emulate wi-fi cities like Madrid, London, Shanghai and Buenos Aires.

But Spanish wi-fi firm Gowex, which signed a ten-year contract with the city to run the network earlier this year, has filed for bankruptcy after chief executive Jenaro Garcia Martin admitted filing inaccurate accounts for the last four years.

Under the terms of the deal, Gowex would have shouldered the cost of installing and maintaining the network but gained free use of lampposts, CCTV columns, and other council-owned property to attach the technology.

The revelations have now shattered plans for free summertime wi-fi with councillors insisting progress is “highly unlikely” to be made in time for the peak tourist season.
Tory group leader Cameron Rose said the firm’s collapse had been “spectacular”.

He added of the wi-fi: “I can’t see it going ahead in the near future.

“The council will either have to re-tender it or they might be able to give it to somebody else on the tender list. They are the possibilities.

“It is a disappointment that we’ll miss out on that access during the summer because it’s potentially a great service to visitors to the city and residents as well.”

It was hoped the improved wi-fi network would boost visitors’ experience in the Capital, particularly at the height of the festival period.

Councillor Frank Ross, the economy convener at Edinburgh Council, said the city was committed to ensuring Edinburgh was one of the “best connected” cities in Europe.

He said: “While the Gowex collapse is disappointing for the council and for the many businesses and residents who have been looking forward to the network going live, the council’s intentions remain the same and we are determined to roll out free outdoor wi-fi in Edinburgh.

“We are working hard to identify the full impact this development will have on the project and what the council’s next steps will be.”

Free internet hotspots on buses, trams and key public buildings remain unaffected.

A voucher scheme providing capital funding of up to £3000 – enabling small businesses and charities to upgrade their broadband connection speeds – is also set to continue.