City council says no to free Wi-Fi coverage in public places

Timothy Schafer
By Timothy Schafer
November 16th, 2015

The City of Nelson may have designated itself as a “smart” community, but only in certain acceptable areas of the city after council turned down the offer of free public Wi-Fi coverage in high traffic city areas like parks.

City council voted during the last meeting against accepting Shaw’s GoWi-Fi program to provide free public Wi-Fi service in seven public spaces throughout the city — a value of over $100,000 in free infrastructure and technological support — including three popular city parks.

The smart communities movement — of which Nelson is part of — is villages, towns and cities getting connected to the Internet, and using the connection to involve citizens in networked activities, ranging from electronically accessed government services, tele-health and distance education to e-commerce.

But just not in parks.

“I’m opposed to having (free Wi-Fi) in parks,” said Coun. Robin Cherbo about the Shaw offer for Nelson. “A park is a place for recreation … not a place where you want to see anybody on their computers or whatever.”

Coun. Michael Dailly agreed.

“There are places in the city that are set up to be social places and I find doing this (going online) to be anti-social and we need to draw the line somewhere. I think parks is one of those lines,” he said.

Dailly said there are other places like café’s and the library to do “that sort of activity,” and that a park was not one of those places.

Mayor Deb Kozak challenged him briefly on that comment.

“I don’t know if we can monitor what people do with their leisure time, or dictate what they do, but I certainly understand the concern,” she said.

In addition to adopting the Big Brother-esque stance on where it was acceptable to go online, the notion of corporate sponsorship — versus footing the bill on the taxpayer’s dime — was a pressure point for council.

Cherbo had reservations about getting “into bed” with a corporation on a project. Coun. Anna Purcell also wanted to see the project city branded — and city funded — rather than furthering the aim of a corporation.

“I would rather see something truly accessible and free to the people without any strings attached,” she said.

In terms of the corporate sponsorship, city manager Kevin Cormack said many of the public institutions in the city — like the Capitol Theatre, Civic Theatre and the Nelson and District Community Centre — had corporate sponsorship.

He asked if council wasn’t comfortable with any corporate sponsorship in city endeavours there should be an investigation to create a policy in that regard.

“Maybe council wants to give us some direction on what’s acceptable corporate sponsorship and what isn’t,” he said.

Coun. Val Warmington said the Shaw sponsorship proposal was different than the ones already in place.

“I think this sponsorship is coming with a cost because people have to be willing to give their information to this corporation to use the service,” she said. “So there is a different relationship.”

The city’s manager of information technology and fibre utility, Allison Sutherland, noted in her report to council that Shaw uses the guest GoWi-Fi as a marketing tool.

Guest users are prompted to enter their email address to gain access to the guest Wi-Fi service. Shaw uses the email address to follow-up with Wi-Fi guests regarding feedback on the service and solicitation of potential new customers.

She recommended proceeding with the Shaw proposal as it was laid out, with the city’s IT department supervising the operation.

However, the motion to enter into the agreement with Shaw was defeated.

Council decided later in the meeting to put the decision to forgo the free service on hold, opting instead to send the proposal back to city staff to gain more information on the Shaw project, including experiences of other communities that have Shaw GoWi-Fi.

A city staff report delivered to council last week noted that “It has been determined that provision of the service directly through city staff and resources is cost prohibitive, therefore staff is recommending the use of the service provider Shaw GoWi-Fi to install and maintain free public Wi-Fi access in city-owned buildings and parks.”

Using Shaw to provide the service means that the city would not incur capital costs to install the service nor ongoing costs to maintain the service, the report noted.

“City resources will also not be used to provide customer service and support,” the report read.

Capital costs for implementation of the service and ongoing maintenance costs were to be the responsibility of Shaw. City staff were to be used for oversight of the installation and were not responsible for ongoing customer support.

Approximately 90 municipalities in B.C. are currently using Shaw GoWiFi. The agreement with Shaw to provide the service is non-exclusive, therefore, if other service providers offer solutions for free public Wi-Fi, the city can entertain those partnerships.

Seven service locations in public spaces were chosen by Shaw, selected to fill in their service gaps and focus on where people gather at city-managed locations. Any one of the seven selected service sites was able to independently opt out of the wireless service.

Sutherland noted that most of the Baker Street downtown business core already has Shaw GoWi-Fi coverage for both existing and potential Shaw customers.

The seven locations included the Capitol Theatre, the Nelson and District Public Library, Touchstones Museum and Art Gallery, the Nelson and District Youth Centre, Rotary Lakeside Park, Cottonwood Falls Park and Gyro Park.

Sutherland explained there was no expectation by Shaw or the city to provide full wireless coverage throughout Nelson, however, Shaw did have service agreements with many of the businesses in Nelson, including hotels, restaurants and coffee shops, which extended their wireless service locations throughout the city.

Local businesses benefit from Shaw GoWi-Fi, she pointed out, by bringing in new customers or retaining customers.

“The city supports the local businesses offering these services and will not compete with them,” Sutherland said in her report.

At this time, the Nelson has sufficient coverage for Wi-Fi, so there are no plans to implement a city-managed wireless infrastructure, she added.

“A full coverage public wireless network is costly to implement, in terms of equipment and human resources,” Sutherland said.

“A city-managed public wireless network is unnecessary, due to service providers like Shaw and Telus, offering good wireless coverage in key areas and the service providers support their wireless customers.”

This post was syndicated from https://thenelsondaily.com
Categories: Politics