Quick Win #2: Additional Income from Council Assets

Filed under: Assets,Governance,Innovation,Technology — lenand @ 12:19 pm

New Money for Old Infrastructure

The alternative to reducing expenditure is to increase income.  Local authorities (LAs) are often not tuned into the potential value from the assets they control.  Hence, this next no brainer.  Simply stated LAs should:

  • Charge a fee to telecoms suppliers for a concession to use street furniture and rooftops;
  • Request a proportion of income generated by the concession.

Why is this not commonplace?  Timing.

Mobile communications are now ubiquitous, especially smartphones with Wi-Fi capacity.  Many sections of society do not have fixed telephone lines or broadband and are dependent on mobile devices.  They are demanding data communications in addition to voice communications.  They welcome Wi-Fi, especially if it is free.  Telecoms suppliers want to attract and retain such valuable customers.

Early LAs get the Worm

The good news is that telecoms suppliers are now prepared to pay local authorities for a concession in town centres.  This will provide an element of free Wi-Fi for visitors and an additional source of income.  The evidence comes from the early entrepreneurship by Westminster and Colchester Councils.

Metro wireless networks are not a new concept. They have been used in the United Kingdom for a number of years with varying degrees of success. Originally, they were a commercial deployment in town centres for public Internet access via laptops – with the user paying a subscription fee.  This model was, in most cases, relatively unsuccessful.  As access to the Internet via mobile handsets and PDAs has increased, justification has moved away from a chargeable service towards a value added free service.  Suppliers can derive revenue from many sources, such as sponsorship, advertising, digital video services, games, music and backhaul for other telecoms companies. The current economics do not require a subscription model.

A major barrier for private sector suppliers is the need for numerous access points at street level.  LAs can provide a solution by offering locations for mounting equipment, such as on street furniture and rooftops.  Private sector suppliers can now deliver Metro Wi-Fi in town centres by paying commercial fees for the use of public assets and sharing some of their income.

LAs should open up for business, obtaining additional value from current infrastructure.

Brownie Points and Benefits for LAs

Town Centre Wi-Fi immediately attracts the attention of local shoppers and retail outlets.  It can be launched with a fanfare, showing how the local council is providing something for citizens – without costing a fortune.  Local politicians love it. The public applauds unlimited free access to commercial and local information.  Look at the potential:

  • Retail Development: Retailers can publish promotions for local shoppers.  Both national and local retailers benefit from technology that attracts and retains new customers.  Free Town Centre Wi-Fi offers a unique selling point for retailers.  Footfall can be increased with mobile vouchers for shops, cafés, hotels or restaurants.
  • Tourism: Visitors can be attracted to tourist, cultural and entertainment venues. Commercial opportunities will arise through advertising promotions and events. Interactive tour guides can enhance visitor experience and encourage more visitors.
  • Economic Development and Regeneration: A modern and flexible infrastructure supports modern businesses.  It sends a positive signal to inward investors that could support training, education and other community services.
  • Social and Digital Inclusion: Free Wi-Fi could be a channel for digitally excluded communities that do not have the Internet in their homes.  Many younger members of this group have smartphones with a Wi-Fi capability (projected 75% by 2014).  Community engagement becomes possible through free access to a local authority portal.
  • Channel Shift of Council Services: Digitally and social excluded people are normally the greatest users of council services.  Easy access to council content and information will help to bridge the “digital divide”, shifting some service delivery to more efficient channels.

Just do it

It may be a no brainer, but LAs must take care.  They must be scrupulously fair in offering concessions and be aware of State Aid regulations – to say nothing of the technical and planning requirements.  There may be other communications and shared service projects in progress that could impact development plans.  Finally, don’t expect suppliers to deliver perfection.  LAs must follow all the basic principles of good project governance, especially by assuring the quality of service.  The public may think it is an LA service even if it is totally provided by the private sector.


1 Comment »

  1. […] Template procurement contracts are a possibility, but some have restricted use – such as the Courts service. The Public Sector Network (PSN) templates may be applicable – but this is only for a limited number of suppliers. Concession deals, like Westminster and Colchester, could also be considered in the wider context of town centre Wi-Fi. […]

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