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Wifi in public buildings: what is best practice?

A Member was in contact with us a few months ago asking whether we had any guidance on wifi usage in their centre. Their local council was rolling out free wifi in all public buildings, but the Member was concerned that this would clash with their policy on electronic devices. Devices with cameras were restricted from most parts of their centre, but many devices which can make use of wifi have cameras. The Member was worried that allowing wifi would create the expectation that restricted devices could be used, making it harder to enforce the restriction.

We consulted with our Members across the UK to see what their wifi policies looked like and to put together some guidance. That guidance is now available in the Members’ Area of our website, and we summarise it here. 


Technological fixes

A lot can be done to manage your wifi connection when it is set up. The signal can be restricted to parts of the building which can easily monitored, such as the Reception. This can be combined with password control; if passwords are only available on request from members of staff, users have to make themselves known to staff to gain access, making them easier to monitor.

By restricting access to clearly defined parts of a site, it becomes easier to enforce restrictions on electronic devices. Customers are less likely to try and use devices in restricted areas, and staff can make customer-care approaches to those who are, helping them to find places where wifi can be accessed.

Wifi can also be set up to restrict access to certain kinds of website. These can include sites promoting illegal or illicit activity, and sites which involve large amounts of data such as TV catch-up or file-sharing services. The details of devices accessing the wifi network can be recorded centrally, allowing those who use wifi incorrectly to be identified and banned from the network in future.


Human fixes

Any policy should be clearly advertised, making customers aware of where they can and cannot use wifi and what they can use it for. This reduces confusion and makes life easier for staff. The obvious way to do this is through posters and signs, in the same way as restrictions on electronic devices are currently advertised.

Good use can also be made of the login screen which customers see when accessing the wifi network. This can advertise where in a site the wifi is available and what it can be used for. This can be configured as an agreement by users to use wifi responsibly – to not access illicit sites, share files, and so on. If users are obliged to provide personal details to register for access, it is easy to monitor those who break such an agreement and ban them from the network in future. 

We hope this has provided some useful pointers for anyone currently implementing wifi at their sites. Fuller details of these fixes are available in the Members’ Area of the website, including a model agreement for the wifi login screen.

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