Ambitious plans to roll out free Citizen WiFi across Adur and Worthing could see ultrafast internet coming to town centres next year.

The investment in gigabit ultrafast infrastructure by Adur & Worthing Councils is the next stage of a pioneering project to make the area one of the most digitally connected places in the south east.

The first phase – the commercial roll out of gigabit speed internet to homes and businesses by Cityfibre – is progressing well with more than 3,000 properties already connected.

Now the Councils are focussing on extending this digital highway to public places, with the creation of a publicly-owned high-speed network that will allow people to connect on the go.

It will also support the development of an Internet of Things network – where computers can safely connect without human input – which could support businesses and the wider community bounce back from COVID-19.

Examples of how this could be used include digital parking and cycle spaces which signal to users when they are empty, smart bins that send a message to waste teams when they are nearly full and interactive public art, which responds to users when they pass by.

Cllr Angus Dunn, Adur District Council’s Executive Member for Resources, said: “A fast, secure connection to the internet is central to 21st Century living – and there’s no doubt it will have even greater importance for the post COVID-19 world as digital connectivity plays a greater part in all our lives. That’s why I am delighted to see us take this next step in creating world class digital infrastructure for our communities.”

Cllr Edward Crouch, Worthing Borough Council’s Executive Member for Digital & Environmental Services, said: “A publicly owned council-run Citizen WiFi network for residents and visitors is the next stage of our ambitious plans to make Worthing one of the most digitally connected places in the region.

“Once up and running, it could have a transformative impact on our communities, supporting innovation in high street renewal, tourism, and creative and digital arts. It will also help businesses grow and to provide essential access to the digitally excluded. These are all benefits that I’m sure will be welcomed by all.”

Approval to release funding to support the Citizen WiFi project was agreed at the recent meeting of the Councils’ Joint Strategic Committee (June 9, 2020).

The scheme will build on the ongoing programme to install fibre at 83 of the Councils’ assets over the next two to three years. Construction work is being aligned to Cityfibre’s fibre to the home programme.

The next stage for Citizen WiFi will be a Design Lab exercise, which will involve research and discussion with retailers, shoppers, visitors, freelancers, the digitally excluded and other user groups to ensure it meets all of their needs.

The findings will then support the installation of a series of access points across the area to ensure full coverage for residents and visitors in town centres, open spaces and community buildings.

The network infrastructure will be owned by the Councils giving it greater control over costs and uses, as well as supporting innovation in the future.

The whole project – including the rollout of gigabit infrastructure to Council buildings – has been supported by contributions from West Sussex Business Rate Pool (£1.25 million) and Coast to Capital Local Enterprise Partnership (£676,500).

Further funding could come from sponsorship although the Councils agreed that the network will remain free to use by all.

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