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Toronto Hydro Plans Huge WiFi Hot Spot

Yesterday, Toronto Hydro announced bold plans to turn downtown Toronto into one big WiFi hotspot. To try to make sense of what this all means for the future of wireless internet access in our city, I touched base with Wireless Toronto volunteer Patrick Dinnen.

Q. Was yesterday's announcement good news for Toronto residents?

PD: It should be. Until full details are available it's difficult to say for certain, but this really should be a good thing for Toronto residents.

Q. Wireless Toronto advocates for free WiFi for the city of Toronto. How does today's announcement impact that vision?

PD: The pricing structure really isn't clear at this point, so it's hard to say. Assuming that the Toronto Hydro network is for-pay, there is still very much a place for free WiFi in that ecosystem. In fact you could argue that free WiFi becomes even more important at that point, as presumably more people would have the equipment and knowledge to allow them to use WiFi, so free WiFi becomes even more of a draw than it is now.

Q. How is Toronto Hydro planning on turning the downtown core into one giant wireless hotspot? What technologies are they using? Is sticking access points on top of lamp posts a good idea?

PD: I'm really looking forward to seeing what the technology proposal is. I know that there are other WiFi projects that are based on the model of WiFi antenna on lamp posts, Mountain View, California for example.

Q. How will this affect current vendors like Rogers? Is WiFi in public areas a service that people will pay for?

PD: I don't think I'm qualified to comment on how this will affect other telecom companies, but I'm sure we'll hear plenty on this from them if they don't like the idea.

My guess is that at least a portion of the public is prepared to pay for WiFi in public areas. The question is how much of the public and what do they do with that Internet access, which probably depends a lot on the price structure for the service amongst other factors.

Q. How does Toronto Hydro's plans compare to what is happening in other cities such as Philadelphia and San Francisco? Is this a progressive move?

PD: Comparing this plan to the other public plans is difficult at this point, because of the absence of detail. But that comparison is something that we and lots of other people will be watching closely.

Yes, this does seem to be a progressive move. Here are a some points that I would like to see addressed that would confirm in my mind that it is a progressive idea:

* A clear strategy for public consultation, and opportunity for community stakeholders to participate, from the earliest planning phases onward.
* Provision for free wireless internet access in public spaces such as parks, community centres, and public squares.
* Specific and meaningful initiatives that address accessibility, especially in terms of underserved communities and small businesses.


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