Metro News: Toronto a step closer to free public Wi-Fi

Posted September 24, 2015

It took nine years, but the City of Toronto may finally be ready to switch on free wireless Internet access for its residents.
 
Last week, the economic development committee voted unanimously to support Coun. Josh Matlow’s motion to add Wi-Fi hotspots to municipal parks and Toronto Community Housing buildings.
 
“I’m really excited that reason prevailed,” Matlow said.
 
The issue will go before council  Sept. 30.
 
The city flirted with free Wi-Fi in 2006, when the now-defunct Toronto Hydro Telecom began offering its One Zone service. The plan fizzled and lay dormant until 2013, when Matlow tried to revive it.
 
However, his motion never made it past committee. While other cities, ranging from San Francisco to Fredericton, launched their own public Wi-Fi plans, Matlow went back to the drawing board.
 
“The leadership of the previous committee… really bought into the unfounded concerns raised by the anti-Wi-Fi lobby,” he said. “But it was a very different reception this time around.”
 
Matlow said the new committee, appointed by Mayor John Tory, understood that offering municipal Wi-Fi makes Toronto “a more tech-friendly city.” He believes the plan will attract businesses to the city and give TCH residents a leg up.
 
“There are so many residents in TCH buildings who don’t have access to high-speed Internet,” he said. “If we can provide the connectivity to employment and education, we could change lives.”
 
Rassel Mohammed lives with his wife and three children in community housing, and has been working with the Toronto branch of ACORN to get wireless access in TCH buildings. He said free Wi-Fi could help his family’s income go a little bit further.
 
“I’ve got Internet access, but I’m paying a large amount of money for it,” he said. “But we’re not even a middle class family and it can be hard to pay the bills.”
 
In the past, public Wi-Fi plans have been met with opposition by the country’s large telecom firms, who view it as unfair competition. This time, Matlow is hoping they’ll get on board and partner with the city to provide the service.
 
“I see a role for them to play,” he said. “They could be great corporate citizens if they decided to contribute to this initiative. And I think that goodwill could encourage people to support them and become a client.”
 
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Article by Luke Simcoe for Metro News