Free Wireless/Wireless Cooperatives

Picture by Azugaldia
Not a new idea, but one I'm trying to lobby for in the Blue Mountains.

Given that the Blue Mountains are so poorly serviced by broadband and mobile providers, I think free WiFi has a potential for becoming a popular idea, but requires a significant amount of awareness building.

I've started an eGroup for local Mountains people interested in the idea, and am keeping bookmarks on all the free WiFi setups in other cities around the world. Its growing!

Basically I see it not as a centralised service provided over a large area, but as hundreds, perhaps thousands of access points where normal broadband accounts are offered up for free public use via wireless modems. Cafes, churches, community halls, schools, council, libraries, pubs, (Blackheath's Ivonhoe is already offering free WiFi!) many others could be encouraged to offer free WiFi access to those who have a mobile device (such as laptop or PDA) with WiFi capabilities.

Basically it would mean people would be able to use the Internet (including VOIP) to a limited degree wherever there was a 'hotspot'. Young kids might start carrying and using PDAs (much better devices than the popular and over priced mobile phones) and conceivably be having free telephone calls with each other through out the mountains region. Instant messaging at the very least! Tourists and business people could enjoy free access in the cafes and public spaces, encouraging flow on business, and generally promoting the Blue Mountains as a progressive, ICT savvy area.

Most easily, each hotspot would require a standard line account to be set up. Preferably the fastest, fattest bandwidth possible. That line is plugged into a wireless modem and offered up for others to access as an open wireless signal. Immediate neighbours and local businesses would contribute to the monthly bill, and the access is kept open for others to use, therefore attracting people and potential business to within 30 meters of their area. Access to the service could start with a connection splash page, promoting who's wireless it is and advertising their other products. Obviously cafes and main street businesses stand to gain from this, and community groups could offer it as an added service with very little extra burden on their current resources.

Admittedly, the likelihood of large scale take up of the services would be small, as most people in the mountains would not own a laptop or PDA. But the open use of these devices in public spaces would help to raise awareness of the possibilities, creating an incentive to laptop and PDA companies to sponsor free WiFi initiatives.

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A climbing gym in Katoomba

Katoomba is the CBD of the Blue Mountains. The Blue Mountains is the centre for climbing in NSW Australia.

Why then, does Katoomba not have a climbing gym?
Yep I heard the chorus, "why would you have a gym when there's so much rock?"
I'd have a gym for newbies to try out climbing safely, easily, after hours, and cheaply, before hitting the real rock.
I'd have a gym for climbers to train, socialise, have events (bring back Escalade!), climb when its wet or dark, and for education.
I'd have a gym for school group sports activities.
I'd have a gym for corporate challenges.
I'd have a gym to trade climbing gear, second hand camping gear, resole boots, mend and modify gear, a cafe, film screenings, boldering, tourists, parties, murals, cliff care HQ, lobby group meetings, information.. you get the idea?

Why hasn't it worked before?
There is one remaining gym in the Blue Mountains (not counting all the woodies in most garages around the place), its located in Leura and is a couple of squash courts in size. But few climbers that I know actually go there much. I suspect its too small, and doesn't successfully attract or generate that community feel.

I think a gym has to large and impressive so as to satisfy the expectations of schoolies and newbies. It also has to be large enough so that the newbies aren't crowding out the climbers. It has to be large enough to support large groups, including spectators. It has to generate and sustain a healthy community if it is to survive up in the mountains. It has to have diverse interests.

A model that clearly works
Hobart's The Climbing Edge, in Bathurst St has developed into an inspirational gym, offering space for kids parties, school groups, climbers and comps and spectators all at the same time! It also has a well stocked second hand camping gear shop and a strong sense of community backing it up. But that's Tasmania - things like that just seem to work down there.. maybe I'm expecting too much for something like that here in the Mountains...

The Climbing Edge's bread and butter are its school groups, but it is the community that feel ownership of it that sustain its amazing set up and standard.
The Blue Mountains Model
A not for proffit cooperative. Somehow bring together all the likely stake holders - local climbers, tour companies, cliff care, gear shops, associations, guides, schools, tourism, magazines, sporting brands, cooporate sponsors, local news paper and climbers from around NSW and sell the idea of a large scale climbing gym in Katoomba.

We have excellent skate parks, excellent tourist facilities, huge climbing history, few sporting parks and complexes... why not a climbing and related activities centre?

Likely problems
  • Raising the capital
  • Finding a suitable venue at a reasonable price (two options: Carington warehouses in Park St, or Savoy Theatre in Katoomba St)
  • Successfully getting stake holders to cooperate
  • Raising enough money to employ at least 1 full time, and 4 casual staff... possibly staff take on multiple roles such as retail assist in second hand gear shop, cafe, and climbing...
  • Insurance, though I'm told it is much better than it used to be.
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