Public Wi-Fi Development Project
Seoul Metropolitan Government

A. Problem Analysis

 1. What was the problem before the implementation of the initiative?
○ Communication service fees emerged as a significant financial burden on households More and more people are using wireless Internet (Wi-Fi) to access the information they need in their daily lives. Unfortunately, the high communication fees that have accompanied the universalization of smart devices have emerged as a new social problem. According to data published by the OECD’s Committee for Information, Computer and Communications Policy (ICCP), the average expenditure of South Korean households on communication services in 2009 was 4.4 percent of total household expenditure―the second highest proportion among OECD nations. Also, according to a survey by the Korean National Statistical Office (KNSO), the average monthly communication service fee per household (as of June 2013) was KRW 160,000 (approx. USD 152). This represents an increase of 17.5 percent over five years and indicates that communication service fees have grown to become a significant financial burden on households. ○ Expansion of mobile data gap for low-income groups due to propagation of wireless Internet South Korea’s wireless IT has evolved rapidly since the late 1990s, leading the country to achieve the highest Wi-Fi penetration rate among OECD nations in 2010. In 2013, it ranked first in terms of smartphone penetration rate (source: Strategy Analytics, 2013), proving that the country has established a world-class wireless communications infrastructure. Due to the sophisticated nature of this infrastructure, a large proportion of the population is now able to enjoy free access to and use of data, regardless of time or location. However, due to the excessive financial burden of communication service fees, low-income citizens are increasingly losing such access. According to the “Survey on Data Gap Indices and Status” published by the KNSO in 2010, the smartphone utilization rate among low-income citizens was 1.9 percent, which is quite low compared to the national utilization rate of 15.6 percent. Accordingly, 47.6 percent of survey participants selected communication service fees as the primary reason for the low utilization rate of smartphones by low-income citizens. ○ Need for distribution of free Wi-Fi to relieve the burden of communication service fees The three major mobile service providers in South Korea—SKT, LG U+, and KT—each offer and operate free Wi-Fi for their service subscribers. The Wi-Fi service of one company usually cannot be used by the subscribers of the other companies. If it can be used, users have to pay a certain fee in order to gain access. Also, free Wi-Fi service is usually available in only indoor areas such as cafés, shopping malls, and reading rooms, meaning that it is not truly free. Free Wi-Fi usually has a range of around 50 meters. In order for Wi-Fi to be made available in outdoor spaces, such as along sidewalks, poles or other types of support fixtures need to be set up in order for Wi-Fi equipment to be installed. In most cases, outdoor installation is impossible due to the lack of adequate spaces for equipment installation. To address this issue, Seoul Metropolitan Government has begun searching for ways to offer the use of city-owned facilities located along streets for the installation of Wi-Fi equipment and provide free Wi-Fi services, in cooperation with telecom companies.

B. Strategic Approach

 2. What was the solution?
The objective of Seoul’s “Public Wi-Fi Development Project” is to resolve the data disparity, which is increasing every year due to the annual increases in communication service fees―posing a serious problem for ordinary citizens―amid a reality in which mobile and Wi-Fi devices (e.g. smartphones, tablet PCs) are developing and propagating at a rapid pace. Another of the policy’s objectives is to transform Seoul into a city that provides universal communication benefits for its citizens. In order to transform Seoul into the world’s most Wi-Fi-friendly city, the city government has developed an operational policy for public Wi-Fi services. The goal of this policy is three-fold: allow citizens to use public Wi-Fi indoors or outdoors, regardless of their location; provide access to public Wi-Fi for everyone, regardless of economic status; and offer diverse urban services based on public Wi-Fi. In particular, the project to increase the number of spaces offering free Wi-Fi gave not only low-income citizens but Seoul residents in general easy access to Wi-Fi service. In terms of tourism, the project has contributed to enhancing Seoul’s urban competitiveness by providing domestic and foreign travelers visiting Seoul with free and open access to the Internet.

 3. How did the initiative solve the problem and improve people’s lives?
More and more people utilize wireless Internet (Wi-Fi) to access information they need or want in their daily lives. Unfortunately, the steep communication fee that accompanies the universalization of smart devices has emerged as a new social problem. According to data published by the OECD’s Committee for Information, Computer and Communications Policy (ICCP), the average South Korean household’s expenditure on communication in 2009 was 4.4 percent of total household expenditure―the second highest proportion among OECD nations. As the average monthly communication fee per household increases, communication service fees are becoming a significant financial burden on households. South Korea’s wireless IT has evolved rapidly since the late 1990s, allowing the country to develop a world-class wireless communications infrastructure. Due to the sophisticated nature of this infrastructure, many people are now able to freely access and use data, regardless of time or location. However, due to the excessive burden of communication service fees, low-income citizens are losing such access to data. Seoul Metropolitan Government has begun searching for ways to offer the use of city-owned facilities located along streets for the installation of Wi-Fi equipment and provide free Wi-Fi services, in cooperation with the country’s top three mobile service providers (SKT, LG U+, and KT). By securing infrastructure that allows anyone to use free Wi-Fi at public places throughout Seoul, regardless of which mobile service provider they use, the city is improving the “communication welfare” of its citizens.

C. Execution and Implementation

 4. In which ways is the initiative creative and innovative?
In order to increase the number of spaces offering public Wi-Fi, Seoul City proposed that the three major telecoms (SKT, LG U+, and KT) utilize city-owned communication networks (Seoul City Hall, 25 autonomous districts, info-communication networks connected to CCTV poles along streets, and 423 community service centers equipped with fiber-optic cables) to aid in the establishment of public Wi-Fi in Seoul. Countless meetings were held with the three companies in an attempt to finds ways through which Seoul’s communication networks could be used to establish a public Wi-Fi infrastructure throughout the city. However, all three companies consistently turned down the proposal, as they did not see any profit in it for them. The city government then proposed a solution for decreasing the household communication service fee by making use of the rapidly evolving Wi-Fi technology. Eventually, all parties came to a consensus: the city would make its communication networks and facilities (e.g. poles, electricity supply) available for the installation of wireless Internet equipment, while the three telecom companies would install Wi-Fi access points and related equipment and assist with their operation and management. As a result, all major areas of Seoul are now equipped with public Wi-Fi.

 5. Who implemented the initiative and what is the size of the population affected by this initiative?
○ Seoul Chief Information Officer (Information System Planning Bureau): planning and execution of public Wi-Fi projects By improving citizens’ communication welfare and offering public Wi-Fi services to domestic and foreign visitors to Seoul in all major areas of the city, Seoul aimed to increase its urban competitiveness and make itself the world’s most Wi-Fi-friendly city. Due to the continuously evolving nature of communications technology and the intense market competition in providing 3G mobile communication service for commercial Wi-Fi (3G, LTE), the three major telecom companies (SKT, LG U+, and KT) had already made massive investments in the establishment of necessary facilities and were therefore initially hesitant about getting involved in expanding Seoul’s public Wi-Fi. Each public Wi-Fi access point requires an annual budget of about KRW 3.5 million (USD 3,333) and an additional KRW 300,000 (USD 286) in maintenance costs every year, resulting in a total of KRW 3.8 million (USD 3,619) per access point every year. Installing 600 access points per year requires a large budget of KRW 2.28 billion (USD 2,171,400). Due to the high expenses involved, the expansion of Seoul’s public Wi-Fi facilities stalled for a time. However, due to the city government’s tireless efforts and consistent negotiations with the three telecoms, an agreement was eventually reached on the issue.
 6. How was the strategy implemented and what resources were mobilized?
1. Awareness of data disparity issue among citizens (January 2011) Seoul City’s Information System Planning Bureau became aware that an increasing number of citizens were losing access to the Internet, contrasting sharply with the city’s constantly developing IT environment. To address this issue, the city has worked tirelessly to come up with ways of reducing the data gap by increasing these citizens’ access to the Internet―a problem that it believes is no longer the sole responsibility of public institutions. In order to develop a substantive solution, the city government held discussions with the three major mobile service providers (SKT, LG U+, and KT) over a period of six months. Eventually, all parties involved agreed to offer free Wi-Fi to not only such data-alienated citizens but all Seoul residents and visitors, thereby achieving the greater goal of transforming Seoul into the world’s most Wi-Fi-friendly city. 2. Signing of MOU between Seoul City and three mobile service providers (June 2011) On June 15, 2011, Seoul City and the three major mobile service providers signed an MOU on the establishment of public Wi-Fi in public spaces (e.g. parks, plazas, major streets) as a means of offering citizens’ greater convenience and improving their quality of life. Seoul agreed to provide city-owned communication networks, while the three companies agreed to install and operate the access points. 3. Creation of taskforce for the establishment/execution of public Wi-Fi (July 2011) After signing the MOU, Seoul City formed a taskforce in cooperation with the city’s autonomous districts and the three major telecoms to ensure the systematic establishment of the public Wi-Fi service. The taskforce held discussions on various practical matters, including the selection of access point installation locations, field surveys, installation and operation methods, and cost-cutting measures. 4. Implementation of test service in major public areas of Seoul (Myeong-dong) (October 2011) It was decided that free public Wi-Fi would first be offered as a test service in Seoul’s largest public areas, including Gwanghwamun, Seoul Plaza, Cheonggyecheon, Yeouido Park, Myeong-dong, and 12 district offices. In December 2011, 327 public Wi-Fi access points were installed in 36 districts to provide citizens with free Wi-Fi services. 5. Agreement to utilize communication networks of mobile service providers in order to expand service to as many areas as possible (March 2012) Seoul City has made consistent efforts to utilize the city’s own communication network, which links all the CCTV cameras installed throughout the city, including Seoul City Hall, 25 districts, and 423 community service centers, in order to install public Wi-Fi access points in as many spaces as possible (e.g. major streets, outdoor markets, parks, tourist attractions). However, to install Wi-Fi in areas that are not served by a communication network (fiber-optic cable), communication lines would need to be installed, which would have been prohibitively costly for the city. After repeated meetings with the three telecom companies, an agreement was reached to utilize the latter’s communication networks, thereby bringing the costs of the project within the city’s budget. 6. Expansion of public Wi-Fi service (2013 to 2017) In addition to the city’s Wi-Fi installation project, 1,990 public Wi-Fi access points were installed in 546 communities (mostly in welfare facilities) over a three-year period (2013-15) through the cooperation of the central government (Ministry of Science, ICT and Future Planning), Seoul City, and the three major mobile service providers. Since concluding negotiations with its autonomous districts, Seoul City has installed and is currently operating 8,679 access points in 2,694 areas (as of December 2016). It plans to install a total of 10,000 access points by December 2017. ○ Technology/communication infrastructure support: Seoul-owned communication network and the communication networks/facilities of telecoms For public Wi-Fi installation points that were already included in Seoul City’s communication network, the installation was done using the existing network, with mobile service providers assisting with the installation/operation and management of the Wi-Fi access point. For public Wi-Fi installations points that outside the city’s communication network, a mobile service provider installed the communication equipment, fiber-optic cables, and other facilities necessary to create a new communication network. Each year, a budget of KRW 2.28 billion (USD 2,171,400) was invested in 600 access points for various purposes (e.g. failover). As of December 2016, the telecom companies have assisted with the installation of 8,679 access points, alleviating the burden on the city’s budget by KRW 32.98 billion. Upon the installation of the planned 10,000 access points by December 2017, the city will have saved a total of KRW 38 billion. ○ Personnel support: City employees and staff of mobile service providers Because most public Wi-Fi access points are installed in outdoor areas (e.g. roads, major streets, outdoor markets, plazas, tourist attractions, parks), the maintenance and management work can involve considerable difficulties. City employees and the staff of mobile service providers conduct regular inspections of the access points to ensure that there are no problems with the communication services and carry out preventive maintenance. When a malfunction/failure does occur, employees are dispatched to the site promptly to address the problem as quickly as possible.

 7. Who were the stakeholders involved in the design of the initiative and in its implementation?
Since Seoul City’s Information System Planning Bureau first became aware that an increasing number of citizens were losing access to the Internet, it has worked tirelessly to find ways of reducing the data gap by increasing these citizens’ access to information. In the process, it concluded that this problem was no longer the sole responsibility of public institutions. In order to come up with a substantive solution, the city held discussions with the three major telecom companies (SKT, LG U+, and KT) over a period of six months. Eventually, all parties involved agreed to offer free Wi-Fi to not only such data-alienated citizens but all Seoul residents and visitors, thereby achieving the greater goal of transforming Seoul into the world’s most Wi-Fi-friendly city. On June 15, 2011, Seoul and the three major telecom companies signed an MOU on the establishment of public Wi-Fi services in public spaces (e.g. parks, plazas, major streets) as a means of making citizens’ lives better and more convenient. The city government agreed to provide access to city-owned communication networks, while the three major telecom companies agreed to install and operate the Wi-Fi access points.

 8. What were the most successful outputs and why was the initiative effective?
After consolidating the feedback from the three major telecoms and residents of 25 districts, joint field inspections were conducted in recommended public Wi-Fi installation areas. Based on these inspections, installations were carried out in areas with large floating populations, high concentrations of data-alienated residents, and high levels of public Wi-Fi usage. In line with the public Wi-Fi operational policy, operation of the public Wi-Fi service (which is conducted primarily indoors) was expanded to outdoor areas in order to transform Seoul into a world-class Wi-Fi-friendly city. Existing installation areas that limited Wi-Fi use to mobile service subscribers were turned into open access areas where anyone can use Wi-Fi, thereby providing citizens with free Internet access as means of alleviating the burden of communication network fees. Seoul City even created its own Wi-Fi emblem, featuring an image of an antennae, and posted it at every public Wi-Fi installation site to make it easy for citizens to identify Wi-Fi areas. It also offers location data through the “Smart Seoul Map” mobile application, enabling citizens to easily find areas with public Wi-Fi service. As of December 2016, the telecom companies have provided support for the installation of 8,679 Wi-Fi access points, allowing the city to reduce its budget by KRW 32.98 billion (USD 29.982 million). When the planned 10,000 access points are installed by December 2017, the city will have cut its budget by a total of KRW 38 billion. The 8,679 access points currently installed in 2,694 areas are each accessed by an average of 300 people a day. Each person uses the access point for an average of five minutes, incurring a user fee of KRW 200 (USD 0.19) and resulting in an average annual user fee of KRW 70,000 (USD 64) per person. If all 8,679 of Seoul’s access points are taken into account, citizens collectively save an estimated KRW 180 billion (USD 163,636,363) on communication service fees.

 9. What were the main obstacles encountered and how were they overcome?
○ Passive stance of telecom companies due to high costs The greatest challenge of the public Wi-Fi project was convincing the telecom companies to agree to participate despite the high equipment costs involved. The installation of each public Wi-Fi access point requires a budget of KRW 3.8 million (USD 3, 454), which includes the facility costs, equipment installation costs, and maintenance costs. To install 600 access points a year, the costs add up to KRW 2.28 billion (USD 2,171,400) annually. Due to the massive costs involved, the mobile service providers were at first hesitant about getting involved with the public Wi-Fi project. ○ Successful attraction of investment from telecom companies through consistent negotiations In order to increase its urban competitiveness by enhancing “communication welfare” for citizens and offering free Wi-Fi services to domestic and foreign visitors, thereby transforming itself into the world’s most Wi-Fi-friendly city, Seoul City arranged a meeting between the mayor of Seoul and the president of KT in October 2012. It was hoped that the two would come to an agreement on cooperation for the establishment of a public Wi-Fi service. The city employee in charge conducted countless meetings with telecom companies to explain the necessity of the service and convince them to think of the opportunity as a way to give back to society by providing Seoul residents with greater access to information. As a result, an agreement was made, and the city government successfully received the investment it needed to install the planned number of Wi-Fi access points.

D. Impact and Sustainability

 10. What were the key benefits resulting from this initiative?
○ Realization of a Wi-Fi-friendly city through the sharing of communications resources by mobile service providers By providing free Wi-Fi services in major areas of Seoul based on a joint cooperation agreement among Seoul City and the three major mobile service providers, Seoul residents and domestic/foreign tourists are now able to enjoy convenient access to the Internet throughout the city. As a result, Seoul has strengthened its competitiveness as a city and made significant progress toward its goal of becoming the world’s most Wi-Fi-friendly city. Furthermore, the city government has reduced the data disparity experienced by low-income citizens and improved the communication welfare of all Seoul residents. ○ Realization of communication welfare by concentrating Wi-Fi installations in data-alienated areas Access points were installed in areas that did not have access to Wi-Fi service provided by a mobile service company (100 out of 160 outdoor markets, 95 major streets, 16 tourist attractions, 135 parks, 18 tourist areas, and 63 welfare centers). Previously, the telecoms installed access points mainly in places such as movie theaters, department stores, and restaurants and cafés, as the installation costs are low in such places. To address this issue, the city worked together with the telecom companies to install public Wi-Fi services in areas of Seoul lacking such access as a means of reducing the data gap among citizens. Now that public Wi-Fi is available in university areas and “youth streets,” university students with little or no income are now able to enjoy the benefits of communications services.

 11. Did the initiative improve integrity and/or accountability in public service? (If applicable)
Through public Wi-Fi, the 10 million residents of Seoul are now able to participate in discussions on local issues through mVoting (a mobile policy voting system) and use Seoul Metropolitan Government’s mobile application for filing complaints. Through this application, citizen file complaints related to issues in their everyday lives via smartphone, and then later check the results or feedback they receive. Through the “Public Wi-Fi Development Project,” more citizens are now able to participate in policy decision-making, increasing Seoul City’s credibility as a result.

 12. Were special measures put in place to ensure that the initiative benefits women and girls and improves the situation of the poorest and most vulnerable? (If applicable)
○ Realization of “communication welfare” by concentrating Wi-Fi installations in data-alienated areas While increasing the number of public Wi-Fi service areas with a focus on areas with large floating populations, Seoul is also increasing the number of public Wi-Fi installations in low-income residential areas through the citizen participation budget system. Over a three-year period (2013 to 2015), a total of 1,990 public Wi-Fi access points were installed in 546 communities (mostly in welfare facilities) through the cooperation of the central government (Ministry of Science, ICT and Future Planning), Seoul City, and the three major telecom companies. The citizen participation budget system has been actively utilized since 2015, resulting in the installation/operation of 1,000 wireless Internet devices in autonomous districts with low fiscal self-reliance ratios.

Contact Information

Institution Name:   Seoul Metropolitan Government
Institution Type:   Local Government  
Contact Person:   namhag kim
Title:   Public relation  
Telephone/ Fax:   011-82-2-2133-2863 / 2133-1074
Institution's / Project's Website:  
E-mail:   namhag@seoul.go.kr  
Address:   110, Sejong-daero, Jung-gu
Postal Code:   04524
City:   Seoul
State/Province:  
Country:  

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