Supply free Wi-Fi as a city service

Posted on September 26, 2015 in Inclusion Delivery System – Opinion/Editorials – A new initiative to bring free Wi-Fi to Toronto Community Housing and all parks and public spaces deserves strong support from city council.
Sep 25 2015.   Editorial

If at first you don’t succeed, Wi-Fi again.

After years of failure and false starts, there’s a new effort underway to make free wireless Internet service an integral part of Toronto’s municipal infrastructure.

Councillor Josh Matlow wants the city to draft a plan for bringing free, reliable Wi-Fi coverage to all Toronto Community Housing buildings, parks, civic squares, plazas and other public spaces.

The goal is to eliminate an income-based “digital divide” that hinders many of the poor from accessing information via high-speed Internet. It would also boost Toronto’s reputation as “tech-savvy jurisdiction” and be a boon to tourists exploring the city, as well as to Torontonians at large, Matlow says. “It’s time for Toronto not just to catch up with the opportunities of the 21st century, but to become a more connected, inclusive city,” he said in a written motion to the economic development committee.

He’s right. Matlow’s initiative was unanimously endorsed by that committee last week and warrants strong support from city council on Wednesday.

It’s vital that Toronto avoid past failures on this file. Nine years ago the city set out on a bold plan to blanket the downtown with Wi-Fi coverage. Sadly, its much-touted “One Zone” municipal network proved a disappointment and was eventually sold. It ended up charging users.

Matlow attempted to revive the free wireless concept in 2013, but his effort never went past the committee stage in the face of loud opposition from a small lobby concerned about the health effects of Wi-Fi signals. In fact, there’s every reason to go ahead.

Other Canadians centres, such as Quebec City and Fredericton, provide free city-wide Wi-Fi service, as do many municipalities in the United States and around the world. Free wireless service isn’t a frill — it’s become a fundamental piece of municipal infrastructure.

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