A new toolkit has been launched to accelerate the rollout of free Wifi in Scotland’s town and city centres – to help bridge the digital divide and boost local economic fortunes.

Scotland’s Towns Partnership (STP) has released a 28-page ‘guide to deploying WiFi networks for public bodies in Scotland’ which it hopes will lead to more consumers being better connected.

STP, which promotes the vibrancy and diversity of the nation’s local high streets, believes that wider free WiFi is critical to a better experience for those using town centres – boosting the economy. It supports the Scottish Government’s view that making WiFi available in public spaces at no charge helps everyone better access digital services and information.

STP’s Chief Officer, Phil Prentice, said: “WiFi is rightly cited as one of the most important aspects of digital connectivity that consumers cannot live without.”

The toolkit issued today (Wednesday, November 18) aims to give public bodies greater at-a-glance ability to quickly gain information about successful schemes already in place and on the network models available and guidance on the ways in which to put them into play.

And it comes as increasing numbers of  “digital high streets” and local apps are created, particularly as businesses work to safely serve customers through Covid-19 and as everyone is urged to think local first to help their community through pandemic. This is a charge spearheaded by STP through the Scotland Loves Local campaign.

WiFi is regularly ranked as essential for day-to-day living – and critical in bridging the so-called ‘digital divide’, providing low-cost internet access.

Scottish Government Connectivity Minister, Paul Wheelhouse, said: “Free public WiFi provides an important service for many population groups.

“I hope that many local planners will use this toolkit to help them to set-up free WiFi systems in key buildings or public spaces. Helping everyone access the services or information they need is important so that nobody gets left behind in an increasingly digital world.”

Mr Prentice added: “Our town and city centres are great hubs – and whether working, living or visiting  them we want people to be able to benefit from the likes of online shopping, discounts, health advice, job opportunities and education. Free WiFi is vital for this. The positives for businesses, residents and shoppers are vast and public bodies play a critical role in helping unlock this potential.

“I hope many of Scotland’s towns and public spaces managers will find the toolkit useful to help them get their networks up and running for the benefit of all. Thanks to the Scottish Government for working with us to establish this document.”

While indoor public WiFi is well-established, technical logistics mean that outdoor systems have proven more challenging for public bodies to put in place.

As well as highlighting the lessons learned from networks already in place the new toolkit provides insight to help planners devise the most suitable system for their needs.

It is published against a backdrop of high public expectation over digital connectivity, with the increasing use of 5G meaning people seek flawless connections no matter where they or how they are connected.

The toolkit is being promoted including STP’s social media channels and via the Scotland’s Improvement District network of town centre organisations.

One such example contained in the toolkit is the town of Cupar in Fife, which established a ‘Digital Improvement District’, based on free public realm Wi-Fi, delivered 24/7 across the town centre.

In that context, a ‘digital improvement district’ was described as ‘using the same mechanism as a traditional Business Improvement District (namely charging a % of non-domestic business rates) to create a ‘single focus delivery’ – utilising digital and social media platforms, free public realm Wi-Fi and data analytics’.

In February, the digital impact and unique work of CuparNow – the overseeing business-driven steering group – won recognition at the Good Retail Awards 2020.