The government's free Wi-fi coverage, which has so far cost taxpayers HK$212 million, was criticised by the Audit Commission yesterday.
Its signal was weak outdoors, connection speeds were slow and it was little wonder people could not be bothered to use it, a survey by the government's financial watchdog concluded.
Field tests showed one in five attempts to connect to the service outdoors failed; and when connected inside or out, half the time connection speeds proved slower than promised.
The service, named GovWiFi, was launched in 2008 and is so far available at 400 locations, such as libraries, sports grounds and government buildings. In contrast, free government Wi-fi is available at 1,200 locations in Singapore and 15,000 hot spots in London.
The commission tested connections to the service 558 times and access to websites 1,395 times at 20 locations.
Outdoors, chances of failing to connect to the service or access websites reached 17.7 per cent and 19.6 per cent respectively. Indoors, 4.8 per cent of attempts failed to connect.
Out of 279 tests to check connection speeds, 33 could not be completed due to weak signals. Of the remainder, download speeds of 25 per cent of indoor tests and 55 per cent of outdoor tests were less than one megabit per second, a minimum stipulated by the Office of the Government Chief Information Officer.
The Audit Commission found that the limited availability and unstable performance discouraged the use of government Wi-fi, with people saying they would rather stick to 3G services provided by telecommuncation companies. Wi-fi connects to the internet through a short-range wireless network, while 3G connects to the internet wherever there is mobile phone service.
At about 80 GovWiFi locations, the average number of daily users was below 15. This means the average cost to the taxpayer per connection could be more than HK$50. The commission recommended the government should step up promotion of the service and improve signage indicating its availability. It should also look at extending the service at places where demand could be big, including hospitals and tourist spots.