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News of an exciting deal between O2 and two neighbouring councils – Westminster and Kensington and Chelsea – to provide free Wi-Fi across the boroughs. Just the sort of project to  help get the economy growing.

It means that Europe’s largest free Wi-Fi zone will be established in time for the Olympics. Wi-Fi access points will be installed in street furniture, initially to a small number of areas but eventually will entirely cover both boroughs. No cost is being incurred by the Council Taxpayer or central Government. In fact it will be a source of revenue for the Town Halls – at least £3 million for Kensington and Chelsea.

Yet I suspect it will do more for economic regeneration that endless bureaucratic state schemes.

O2 chief operating officer Derek McManus said:

“This ground-breaking deal is the first of its kind in the UK and will see us deliver high quality connectivity across London in time for London 2012.

“Our longer-term aim is to expand our footprint of O2 Wifi, which is open to everyone, and also intelligently enhance our services at street level, where people need the network the most.

“Our £500m annual network investment programme is focused on integrating new layers of technology into the existing network to enable a seamless and sustained customer experience.”

Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea deputy leader and cabinet member for environment Cllr Nicholas Paget-Brown said:

“I am very pleased that we have been able to come to this agreement and we look forward to working with O2.

“Residents and visitors having free access to the latest mobile technology will help us to continue to offer value for money for residents.”

Westminster City Council cabinet member for strategic finance Cllr Philippa Roe said:

“Westminster welcomes over a million tourists a day, is home to 250,000 residents, employs over half a million people and sees 4,000 business starts-ups each year.”

“Next summer’s Olympic Games mean that London will be putting on the biggest show on earth and as Westminster has a starring role, visitors to London will easily be able to share their pictures and updates of the Olympic events across social networking sites.”

The viability will certainly be helped by choosing two boroughs with lots of affluent residents and visitors. The free access will be financed by advertisements and the rich are more interesting to advertisers than the poor. But if the scheme makes money for O2 then I hope they will be interested in talking to other councils, including, ahem, Hammersmith and Fulham.

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