Renfrewshire Council is delivering free public access wi-fi which will make the area’s the town centres places to be.
The £1 million system will give free internet access to anyone in Johnstone, Paisley and Renfrew town centres, drawing in visitors and delivering more customers for local businesses.
It will allow visitors to stay in touch through email and messaging apps, access their digital banking and use the many other web-based systems people increasingly rely on while out-and-about.
The system will also help tackle the problem of digital exclusion and cement the area’s reputation as a place for learning.
Renfrewshire Council Leader Mark Macmillan said: “We are committed to ensuring our towns have the infrastructure they need to thrive.
“Johnstone, Paisley and Renfrew town centres provide jobs and vital services for people throughout Renfrewshire, and we know around a quarter of people are likely to spend more time in a town centre that offers free public wi-fi.
“By providing this facility we will draw in more visitors, get them to stay longer and so help boost local trade.”
He added: “This is an exciting development that reflects our determination to take action that helps our town centres succeed, delivers meaningful support to local businesses and encourages employers to create jobs in our communities.
“It will also help more people to get online and access the benefits the internet has to offer, as well as furthering Paisley’s status as a leading centre of higher and further education.”
Renfrewshire’s free public wi-fi system is currently being installed in Johnstone town centre, before being rolled-out in Paisley and Renfrew town centres.
The installation of free Wi-Fi in the three town centres and in public buildings across Renfrewshire will tackle digital exclusion, which mainly affects those on low incomes who do not have an internet connection at home.
This leaves people further disadvantaged due to being unable to access opportunities and services most take for granted.
Council Leader Macmillan explained: “Sadly, digital exclusion is most likely to impact those who would benefit most from the internet.
“For people on low incomes the chance to get better deals on things like household gas and electricity bills or their car insurance would make a massive difference.
“There are also other benefits that people may not realise”, he continued.
“If someone is vulnerable or isolated the value of face-to-face contact with their loved ones is hard to overstate.
“Internet access would allow them to use things like free video calls to stay in touch with friends and family who have moved away from the area, overcoming isolation and loneliness.
“Free public access Wi-Fi will help to tackle the issue of digital exclusion and this is a central element of Renfrewshire Council’s Tackling Poverty Strategy.”
The town is home to the campuses of both the renowned University of the West of Scotland and the leading West College Scotland.
Students, researchers and staff will be able to use the public access wi-fi system to access Eduroam, which allows universities and colleges around the world to give instant remote access to materials stored securely on their internal networks.
Professor Craig Mahoney, the principal and vice-chancellor of University of the West of Scotland (UWS), said: “This is a fantastic development for the town.
“Being able to stay connected is increasingly important in today’s fast moving world and this development is welcomed by UWS.
“It will benefit not only those working and studying at UWS but also those who visit the university.”
Heather Armstrong, senior student representative of the Students Association of the University of the West of Scotland, added: “It’s great that Paisley town centre will have free wi-fi.
“Having a fast, reliable and secure internet connection on our phones is becoming ever more important.
“If people can’t get online while they’re in town it makes life difficult, as everyday tasks from banking to checking public transport times are all now done through the internet.“
She continued: “With students increasingly having less money in their pockets, mobile phone contracts with unlimited data are a luxury not everyone can afford.
“Being able to log-on to Renfrewshire Council’s free public wi-fi will make a real difference to students who would otherwise be at a significant disadvantage.”
The free public access Wi-Fi system is being installed by Braehead-based company Boston Networks, who won Renfrewshire Chamber of Commerce’s Employer of the Year award in November.
As part of the £1 million contract with Renfrewshire Council the firm is providing a number of community benefits throughout the area.
It will hire four new members of staff, including a project management graduate from UWS and two wireless engineer modern apprentices identified with the help of the council’s employability service Invest in Renfrewshire.
The modern apprentices will work side-by-side with a team of experienced engineers to learn and develop on-the-job skills and gain a formal qualification.
Boston Networks will also recruit at least one additional member of staff and will work with Invest in Renfrewshire to encourage local school leavers and unemployed young people to apply.
Scott McEwan, the company’s chief executive, said: “Boston Networks is both excited and proud to be working with Renfrewshire Council to support their digital transformation strategy through the delivery of an enterprise grade public wi-fi service.
“Our experienced team will fully utilise their local and technical knowledge to design and deliver a leading-edge public wi-fi provision to support the council’s key strategic priorities, such as improving digital inclusion and participation.
“Renfrewshire Council is setting the standard high, their model will serve as an excellent example to other councils, who like Renfrewshire, will adopt digital transformation as a solution to deliver economic growth and enhance productivity through the provision of digital public services.”