Thursday, 22 April 2021

Free wi-fi service is scrapped as it’s not luring more visitors

Free wi-fi service is scrapped as it’s not luring more visitors

FREE wi-fi will no longer be provided in Henley town centre.

A £10,000 project, which was set up as a joint initiative between the town council and South Oxfordshire District Council three years ago, has failed to meet its objective.

Its aim was to support websites that provide information about the town and encourage visitors to stay longer and explore Henley.

At the time of the project’s launch the cost of mobile data was high and evidence suggested that the provision of free wi-fi would entice visitors who did not wish to use their expensive data plans.

However, figures show that an average of just 37 users per day have used the service and their average age is less than 24 and more than half live in Henley.

Users spent 26 minutes, on average, using the service between September 2015 and January this year.

A three-year contract with STL Communications ended on April 1 and the town council has decided not to renew it. The rough cost to extend the contract for another three years would have been £8,000 plus VAT.

A report to the council’s town and community committee said: “Over the last year, the average session time was 54 minutes.

“Combined with the high download usage by Henley residents aged less than 18 who sign in with Facebook, the statistics indicate that the wi-fi is not being used by the target audience — visitors.

“There has been no evidence to suggest that the wi-fi provision has encouraged visitors to Henley to stay longer and explore the town.

“On the contrary, evidence indicates that as mobile data plans and prices have decreased over the life of the project, the draw of free wi-fi is not as strong for visitors.

“Free wi-fi is readily available in various places in the town, including coffee shops and pubs.”

The total cost of the project was £9,995.64 plus VAT, which was paid in instalments. This was jointly funded by the town council and South Oxfordshire District Council.

Councillor Sam Evans said: “When this was put in I think we were all excited about it and it was a great initiative but, as with everything, IT has moved on and there are so many outlets that even Luddites like me can get connected wherever I am.

“£8,000 seems an excessive amount of money. There’s no way on this planet we should be paying that amount of money.”

Members agreed to note the completion of the project and not to extend it.

The wi-fi service, which was introduced during former town centre manager Peter McConnell’s tenure, offered coverage of the whole of Market Place.

When users signed into the system, it recorded their gender, age, where they lived as well as their session time and the amount downloaded.

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