Free WiFi At Church

I got this email yesterday:

Over the past couple of days I’ve been thinking about Wi-Fi being provided free (secure and filtered) by churches and Christians. The idea came to me when I noticed a guy outside of my house in the cold, winter weather accessing my wireless with some kind of hand held device. I was thinking that it would be cool if people were able to access a connection for free BUT there would always be one pop-up at the beginning of the access…sort of a “provided by” message along with some other message. like info about a church or group or the gospel message for that matter, or maybe a link with info on donating to specific charities or disaster relief. I would think that would be only a minor inconvenience if one was able to access the internet for free. What are you’re thoughts on that?

I confess my first thought would not have been a charitable one if I’d seen someone outside my house trying to access my wifi. First I’d think best of luck and then I’d instantly change my pre-shared key . Me, paranoid?

But to answer the question the answer I gave was “I love the idea” … Those of you that are regulars here will know that my pastor is a techno luddite. Sure he uses computers and email but that is where it stops. He doesn’t ‘get’ Facebook or Twitter and has more than once stated from the front on a Sunday that “you won’t find me on there”.

Every time I hear this refrain I throw my arms up in despair and wonder if I’m forever doomed to be in a church that wont use my God breathed talents and skills in a fuller way than just as ‘tech support’. But I digress. The idea of wifi in the church is a fabulous idea and for us then to provide a value added service to our local community would be a great outreach tool.

Once wifi is setup one could do things like:

  • advertise free Wi-Fi in your coffee mornings / shop
  • provide after school clubs offering free wi-fi
  • allow church members to access the net via their smartphones, etc for free
  • allow visiting speakers or business people access to the web without touching your own network
  • and so on …

The one service I know quite well and have looked at is ZoneCD – or at least that was their name. I see they are now called ‘PUBLICip‘ (link) – they provide a Free and Pro service with the free easily covering most needs. In short they provide an individual build of a *nix with added functionality. You as the user have to provide a PC (doesn’t have to be state of the art either) with two network cards and a wifi access point either as a standalone AP or as part of a router.

It includes filtering by utilising DansGuardian, an open source web filter, as well as many other features. the idea works by the PC becoming a firewall and filter with one NIC linking to your new wifi AP and the other to your established router / internet connection. The only thing one needs to be clear on is making sure the wifi AP uses a different IP range – beyond that the process is relatively straight forward.

I’m sure there are other services out there that do a similar offering and I’d love to hear about them? I did find the Wifi Free Spot site but they are more informational than actual practical build your own set up.

Secondly, what other uses could the wifi be put to? Giving folks the ammo to take into battle with the leaders can only be a good thing – so come on, get creative folks and let me know your ideas?

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15 Responses to “Free WiFi At Church”

  1. Pam
    January 19, 2010 at 4:05 pm #

    We offer wifi at Shades Mountain Baptist, using our Ruckus Zone Director we create separate vlans for staff by AD credentials, for the public and for any conferences or special groups needing access. All traffic is filtered using our Barracuda products. At first browser access, each person must agree to our terms of use (and see any "advertising")

    • January 19, 2010 at 5:57 pm #

      Hi Pam – I hadn't heard of Ruckus before and certainly haven't come across their Zone Director. It looks interesting stuff and I'll certainly take more of a peek.

      For my church I've got Xirrus coming to do a free survey so we'll have a much better idea soon of what can be done – however neither Xirrus nor Ruckus are free (as far as I know) whereas PUBLICip is – if we discount the re-used PC and AP :)

      • Kevin Murray
        January 21, 2010 at 7:33 am #

        Stuart,

        I work for a church, but not in Church IT (I am a Youth Director). But since Youth Ministry does not pay enough to pay the bills, I work as a Systems Administrator as my "day job".

        One of the things we have been using at my office (not the church) is a product called Open-Mesh (http://www.open-mesh.com/). Their pro units cost around $50 each and are great value for the price.

        The units have dual SSIDs so you can have one open network and one private network (which is how we have deployed the units). In addition, on the open SSID you can limit bandwidth and firewall so no one can access your main network (or the private SSID). They have been very stable compared to our old Wifi solution which was slowly dieing. I've been very happy with these, and am about to buy more to expand our coverage. In conjunction with a solution like OpenDNS, you could do content filtering very easy.

        On a side note, my Pastor is much like yours. Heck, he is not even really a fan of e-mail. If I do need to send him something (I work away from the building a lot), I send it to our office manager and ask her to give it to him. lol. (He did surprise me and bought a Plam Pre over Christmas, so their might be hope for him yet). I do think here in a little bit I am going to give him some recommendations (Open Wifi, Giving Kisoks, and others). Not sure how they will go over, but really are needed around the church.

        Anyway, if you have any questions let me know and I will see what I can do to help. You can find me on twitter: @claystorm.

        Peace,
        Kevin

        • January 21, 2010 at 10:34 am #

          Kevin – thank you for this. Another product I can look into as I haven't heard of Open-Mesh before. And I do like the fact that their kit is cheap – wonder if that translates to the UK?

          When I replied to the email I did so out of my own knowledge and a quick and dirty google search – but that was restricted by my own ability to think creatively on the search terms. Professionally I know of kit that does dual SSIDs or can be configured to do so, but they don't come cheap (I'm thinking Cisco here).

          Thanks for teh twitter ID – now following you and have added you to my ChurchIT list as well. Also intrigued to hear how you get on with your proposed recommendations … I know what happens to mine!

  2. Sam
    January 26, 2010 at 12:59 pm #

    Stuart – love your blog, have been tracking it for a few months and really appreciate what you do here.

    We're in the middle of discussions about the whole "free wi-fi" issue at our church and at a meeting tonight I'm going to share my experience with using Meraki as a solution I implemented at home to setup a neighbourhood network. It isn't free, but it's been solid, super easy to maintain, and comes with a ton of great administrative features.

    Keep the posts coming, there are those of us out here who would miss it :-)

    – Sam

    • January 26, 2010 at 3:31 pm #

      Oh wow, thanks Sam I apprecieate that I really do and if there's anything you'd like me to cover specifically then just ask or use my suggestion box!

      Would you perhaps be interested in doing a write up about Meraki and why you picked it, how you did it, the benefits etc?

      • Sam
        January 26, 2010 at 5:30 pm #

        Maybe someday as a guest post, but I can't commit to it yet (time constraints). Thanks for the offer and if I feel lead/inspired to put thought to paper, I'll start here. Cheers!

        • January 26, 2010 at 8:27 pm #

          That's cool and no pressures if you don't want to do so.

  3. October 12, 2011 at 7:36 pm #

    I am so glad I came upon this site – I hope I can encourage your suggestions on our plans. We are starting a new church ( 82% of county residents do not attend church). We want to set up an "in sanctuary" WiFi (no internet access) – just offer guests access to an "electronic church bulletin" which will provide them support material for the sermon, notes, maps, pics, announcements, simple .html bible search tool, etc. We would like to redirect all WiFi traffice that his the router to a "landing page" on a laptop. I see alot of "linux" solutions, but those are just over my head. Do you guys have any simple (Windows based) solutions? Right now I am looking at Home Web Server, which sets up a 'localhost' web handler at the standard root (IP 127.0.0.1) – I've got my web content there. Works fine on my laptop at http://127.0.0.1/ – web content launches fine. I just need to figure out how to redirect my Cisco E3000 series dual band WiFi router to that "IP" on my laptop. thank you for any ideas you can offer. – in Christ! Brad @ New Life

    • October 12, 2011 at 9:51 pm #

      Hi Brad and thanks for stopping by and commenting.

      As to your dilemma then I don't have an immediate answer. I don't know the Cisco E3000 so can't advise on what it can or can't do – but bits of kit such as Open-Mesh's AP's with 2 distinct wi-fi networks in one small, cheap unit (approx $50) which is also expandable to a mesh if the area needing coverage grows, etc … is one answer.

      Failing that, an approach would be to setup a standalone AP that simply provides an ad-hoc network but that doesn't have any external connectivity – finding the right AP to "direct" the traffic is the trick. Maybe one of the ones that has an install of DD-WRT on it would work…?

      The only other immediate answer I have is to look at using something like ZoneCD (as was, now called PublicIP) which appears to be defunct though. This provides(d) a captive portal which returns a login screen. This in tirn can be customised to provide information or deliver an advertisement for the venue – such as a library, coffee shop, or restaurant.

      Feel free to ask more or drop me an email with specifics…

  4. hugh jan
    July 27, 2012 at 10:06 pm #

    You never see a church with free wifi. I guess no church wants to compete with an invisible power that actually works

    • July 29, 2012 at 6:22 pm #

      Thanks for the comment… gave me a giggle but as it happens we now offer free wifi and I know of a couple other churches that do too.

  5. John Sanfratello
    August 4, 2012 at 5:56 am #

    we have a very small church and we are looking for a free wi-fi connection for our congregation. perhaps there is an organization which would provide a free (paid) connection and wi-fi box for us so that we may access resources for o0ur youth and adult ministries. has anyone heard of this?

    • August 4, 2012 at 10:28 pm #

      Thanks for dropping by John.Sorry to say that I have not heard of such a service but you may find someone willing to fund the process via a grant or similar. For us the 'free wifi' actually comes at a very reasonable price. If you already have broadband into the church then adding one of the 'cloudtrax' based boxes (approx $60) is the only one off additional fee you'd have to pay.

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