This article will teach you about one the most famous free wifi projects in Brazil, how it was created and how it is about to technology failed in delivering the expected results.
Launched in 2008 by Rio de Janeiro state, as part of Rio Estado Digital program, Baixada Digital offers free wi-fi for six municipalities in Rio de Janeiro.
The project is a initiative of the State Department of Science and Technology in partnership with Universidade Federal Fluminense (Fluminense Federal University) and it aims to promote access to information, to improve education and to include people who, otherwise, would have no access to internet.
With a total investment of BRL 3 million the first part of the project aimed to benefit about 1,7 million people and it covers the municipalities of São João de Meriti, Caxias, Belford Roxo, Nova Iguaçu, Mesquita e Nilópolis, all of them located at Baixada Fluminense, the poorest, most violent and more densely populated area in Rio de Janeiro state.
When launching the project, Sérgio Cabral Filho, governor of Rio de Janeiro, stated that 90% of the residences in the covered area would have access to internet, a level equivalent to Japan, for example.
The service can be accessed from home and from public locations, and it reaches some areas that are not covered by any broadband service. People who own devices with wireless technology - such as laptops and Smartphones– have access to free internet. However, the signal is restricted to areas that are located within 60 meters away from the antenna. The areas covered by the signal can be consulted on the project website.
Those who live in areas that currently are not covered by the signal can still benefit from free wi-fi as long as they purchase a kit composed by an antenna, an USB adapter and a connection cable. The antenna must be installed on the roof of the property and be positioned towards a transmission tower. The kit costs BRL 150,00.
Not a pioneer
Differently from what some might think, Baixada Digital is not the first project of this nature in Brazil. Before its launch, several different locations from different states had been working with similar projects.
Baixada Digital was inspired by Piraí Digital, a project that aimed to provide free wi-fi to the entire municipality of Piraí, also located in the state of Rio de Janeiro.
In 2003, the municipality of Sud Mennucci, in São Paulo, provided the population with free wi-fi internet.
In 2010, the state of Acre launched Floresta Digital (or Digital Forest), an initiative that following the steps of previous similar projects, provides free wi-fi services to 14 cities.
The municipalities of Mesquita, Belford Roxo and São João de Meriti have received daily complaints from their residents. The main complaint is that the area receives the signal, but it is not strong enough to offer the connectivity required to provide internet access. The real issue is that the number of antennas are insufficient for the number of people who are using this connection.
The mayors of these municipalities have decided to charge the state government for a solution because, according to them, the program has never worked properly since its launch, in 2008.
Despite the complaints, the state government is working on similar projects throughout the state and aims to make Rio de Janeiro the first fully digital Brazilian state.
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