New York is getting free Wi-Fi hotspots, so why doesn’t Canada’s largest city, Toronto, pursue internet freedom as well? It only makes sense, especially since many now view internet access as a human rights issue.
Recently, New York City’s Mayor, Michael Bloomberg, revealed the city is set to launch 10 free Wi-Fi hot spots spread across New York’s five boroughs. Free Wi-Fi areas were chosen because of high foot traffic and a mix of residential, commercial and retail spaces. The project cost $4.3 million, with $3.4 million from private investors and $900,000 coming from the City of New York.
“It’s going to mean that the information and power of the Web will be available in public spaces,” said Bloomberg during a press conference.
Toronto city councillor Josh Matlow wants the city of Toronto to offer similar free Wi-Fi access. Matlow’s request is currently being reviewed by Toronto’s government management committee and the report regarding the possibility of free Wi-Fi is due by March 2014.
The pilot program would create a free Wi-Fi hotspot in Toronto’s Nathan Philips Square by the end of 2014. Another free Wi-Fi related project, launched approximately seven years ago through a partnership with Toronto Hydro, never really lived up to its potential. It ultimately failed when the once-free hotspot turned into a paid service that isn’t much cheaper than pay-for-use telecommunications offerings from big companies like Rogers and Bell.
Free Wi-Fi in Toronto would be especially helpful for tourists trying to find their way around the city and for residents who can’t afford hefty mobile or home internet fees. Torontonians looking to avoid going over restrictive Canadian data caps, especially on their smartphones, might also find access to free Wi-Fi useful.
“It’s a public service, it also can contribute to narrowing an equity gap … this also provides opportunity for tourists,” said Matlow in an interview with the Toronto Sun.
Rogers already offers a program called “Connected for Success,” which offers broadband internet access to Toronto Community Housing (TCH) properties. According to Rogers, only 20 per cent of TCH residents have access to the internet.
Canadians pay some of the highest prices for what is arguably the slowest internet in the developed world. It’s no wonder people who rely on Toronto’s social safety net to afford housing don’t have internet access.
In the private sector, Wireless Toronto, a private company dedicated to offering free Wi-Fi to Torontonians in specific geographical locations, gives free Wi-Fi access to businesses and organizations if they meet specific criteria. It only costs $50 a year (and $70 for a modem/router). Twelve locations across the city, including the St. Lawrence Market and Harbourfront Centre, offer free Wi-Fi through Wireless Toronto.
Wirelessnomad.com, wifidel.com, canadianhotspot.ca, boldstreet.com and mainspot.ca, all offer similar services in the Toronto and southern Ontario area. In terms of American cities, Chicago also offers free Wi-Fi coverage through a public/private partnership.
Free Wi-Fi also comes with risks. Since it’s accessible to anyone, it could be used to privately view illegal websites. Torrent users could also clog up the hotspots’ internet speeds by downloading all six seasons of the Sopranos and five seasons of Breaking Bad, in 1080p (at the same time of course).
(By Patrick O'Rourke)