Don’t upgrade your cell phone data plan just yet. Colombia is about to get a lot more connected, and it’s not going to cost users anything to take advantage of more than 1,000 planned public Wi-Fi hotspots around the country.
On Tuesday, President Juan Manuel Santos and representatives of the Ministry of Technology, Information and Communication (MinTIC) announced the “Free Wi-Fi for the People” initiative, a $13 billion peso plan to massively expand Wi-Fi connectivity across Colombia.
The announcement helped publicize a free Wi-Fi zone in the area around the MinTIC office near Bogotá’s tourist-friendly La Candelaria neighborhood. The building has offered Wi-Fi since December.
Over the next few months, more than 60 sites around the country will be opened up for the public to get online. That number will eventually grow to 1,000, with dozens of locations in each of Colombia’s 32 departments, according to MinTIC.
Each hotspot will offer connectivity over an 80 meter (262 foot) radius for up to 1,000 users at a time.
The move could have important implications for poorer Colombians who may have limited access to high speed internet at home.
“We are convinced that more access to the internet translates into more education, more employment and a more competitive country,” said Minister of Technology, Information and Communication David Luna on Tuesday.
It’s also likely to be a boon for international travelers who don’t sign up for a local cell plan. Wi-Fi networks can help avoid costly international roaming fees.
“Free Wi-Fi for the People” also coincides with a broad push over the past few years to connect millions of Colombians to the internet with high-speed broadband access.
More than 1,000 municipalities are now connected to fiber optic networks, and some 50 percent of all households have high speed internet access, up significantly from a decade ago.