Boston launches Wicked Free Wi-Fi, closes digital divide

Free public Wi-Fi is now available at 12 locations in Boston after the Department of Innovation and Technology officially launched a program called the “Wicked Free WiFi: Boston’s Public Wireless Network.”

The Wednesday launch was a result of Boston Mayor Martin Walsh’s partnership with DoIT, which enabled a wireless Internet service that will be available through 170 access points around Boston. Public Wi-Fi has been rolled out in several of Boston’s parks, schools and downtown locations, according to a Wednesday press release .

“Closing the digital divide and providing free public Wi-Fi in our neighborhoods is essential,” Walsh said in the release. “We want every Bostonian to have the same opportunities in today’s digital world. Wi-Fi access plays a significant role in every aspect of our lives from learning to earning. Our goal is to strengthen and expand our public network, and reach more families and businesses.”

The largest concentration of access points can be found in Grove Hall, where approximately 9,800 residents utilize the system daily. Other Wicked Free Wi-Fi locations include parts of Allston, Boston Common and Faneuil Hall, the release stated.

Rhonda Siciliano, public affairs officer for the Department of Housing and Urban Development New England Region, said the department wanted to participate in a program to extend access to Wi-Fi for under-served populations in the city.

“There’s so much that we can learn from having access to the Internet,” she said. “It opens up a whole world of opportunity for students, and having that same opportunity … hopefully will help them get better grades, do better in school and it opens up a whole world to them.”

Siciliano said HUD awarded the City of Boston a $1.5 billion Choice Neighborhood Implementation Grant, and the city’s leaders decided to use $300,000 to install free Wi-Fi as part of the critical community improvement project.

In  the coming months, the City of Boston will be focusing on strengthening and expanding the Wicked Free Wi-Fi network, with plans to connect Boston’s 20 neighborhood Main Street programs through an estimated 130 access points, the press release stated.

“Boston’s approach is to provide affordable Wi-Fi to improve the lives of residents and increase the success of local business,” said Justin Holmes, interim chief information officer, in the press release. “We will continue to work towards connecting all of Boston.”

Several residents said the free Wi-Fi system would bridge the information gap between the city’s neighborhoods.

Rachel Sullivan, 26, of Beacon Hill, said she uses her smartphone most of the time, but having access to free Wi-Fi throughout the city will make retrieving information easier.

“A lot of people will be able to access what they need to,” she said. “Wi-Fi, in a way, is kind of a luxury, so for Boston to provide it … that’s fantastic to have that kind of luxury and to be able to access it everywhere, as long as it’s good quality.”

Meg Crawford, 24, of Brighton, said the Wi-Fi plan will only be beneficial for residents who currently own devices that can access the Internet.

“People will be able to find things out and do things, [but] you have to have something to use the Internet, like an iPhone,” she said.

Neil Andrews, 25, of Kenmore, said the Internet affects nearly everyone on some level, whether it be for professional or social purposes, and this program will benefit the entire community.

“I’ve always had access to Wi-Fi, so I don’t really know what it would be like not to have it,” he said. “You also learn about news which gives you a wider understanding of what’s happening.”

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