WiFi Woes

By Ben Bull
Published July 03, 2007

The free ride for Toronto's downtown widely-lauded WiFi service is over, and already the new Hydro One provided fee based service appears to have hit a snag.

With a subscriber base conversion rate of somewhere in the region of 10 percent, it looks as if the introduction of the $30 per month surfing charge has put the project on the skids.

"There had been talk of blanketing the entire city within three years. Now, Hydro president David Dobbin says 4,000 subscribers would be required before making the leap to the rest of the city," reports the Star.

Toronto's WiFi woes are nothing new. Many North American municipalities have attempted to play ISP by providing citywide wireless internet coverage, only to find some obstacle or other in their way.

"Three years ago, a wireless Philadelphia was conceived as a municipal project that would help the city's poor get online," said Ryan Nichols, spokesperson for Wireless Philadelphia.

However, as the Star article points out, "That project changed hands when telecom companies began to complain that municipal wireless would hinder competition. After years of political squabbling among the three levels of government, the project was handed over to Internet service provider EarthLink, which charges $19.95 (U.S.) per month for access."

Another obstacle is the limitations of the current technology and the advent of newer, better solutions on the way:

"David Robinson, vice-president of business implementation at Rogers, said while WiFi worked well in locations like coffee shops, it would provide spotty coverage in areas crowded by trees and concrete. And it makes little sense to invest in the technology when it's next incarnation, WiMax, is what the techies are buzzing about."

WiMax is similar to WiFi, but it can cover far greater distances and offers faster throughput.

"I simply cannot comprehend why anyone would build a metropolitan WiFi network when WiMax is right around the corner, unless they're looking for a tax loss," Robinson said.

All this brings to mind that age old question of what role municipal government should play in running the business of the city, especially when it's a business they know very little about. In Hamilton, politicians have been reluctant to take the lead on the Lister development for precisely those reasons.

Similarly, the running of Hamilton Airport and Copps Coliseum has been a lightning rod for criticism.

All this is something to keep in mind as Hamilton presses ahead with its own soon-to-be-launched WiFi service.

Ben Bull lives in downtown Toronto. He's been working on a book of short stories for about 10 years now and hopes to be finished tomorrow. He also has a movie blog.


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By everywhere365 (anonymous) | Posted July 03, 2007 at 21:32:14

Ok, small world as I was just in TO this past wknd and (for a reason)but Sunday I cycled all over TO to search a HotSpot or WiFi FREE nothing like I expected then after over 1 and maybe even 2 hrs have coffee and eats around 10am! finally on Front St right across CBC (I asked couple cameral guys if I can pick up free wireless from my laptop)they said try.
I tried and picked up (convention Centre?)but not free.

I used to live & work in TO 80s- 90s but big city by especially cycling.

long story short. I "FINALLY" found a cafe on Queen/Ossington & got a card. small nice cafe.

I checked Google but found a gimic for gadget U pay to seek free WiFi spots.

I cycled all over TO from a friend's place High Park to Queen/John Starbucks(Hydro1)not free, then yonge, Church, King,........
Toronto is a money trapper especially if U don't know the city like I do/did.

I have to return again soon for visit and buz reasons.

Cogeco is good here Hmailton to Oakville only free wireless but U might need a password like Williams cafe every Thursday (across from Mac)

A wireless card otherwise if it's worth it.

I used to pick up free but from a router most now security enabled and the owners are informed of this.

Freedon of wireless is important over profit.

But $120 a coffee is cheaper than $170 in most cafes if not Williams just to get free internet. Or just bring water and sit outside.

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By seancb (registered) - website | Posted July 04, 2007 at 10:43:49

Is Hamilton pressing ahead with a wifi service when Primus is running a Wimax trial in Hamilton pretty much as we speak...

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By rusty (registered) - website | Posted July 04, 2007 at 10:51:05

Hi Sean,

Last time I checked, which was a while ago I admit, the project was still on. I spoke to a councilor who said it was 'imminent'.

Jason - can you get us a status on this project through your contacts?

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By jason (registered) | Posted July 04, 2007 at 15:02:08

what contacts?? who do you think I am?

All I know is that the FREE WiFi works beautifully at Williams, PAM's and Three16 Lounge (where I am right now).

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted July 04, 2007 at 15:15:01

There's a difference between WiFi at a single location and a continuous network running throughout a city core. The former simply requires an over-the-counter wireless router (you can pick one up for about $100) that is powerful enough to reach, say, across a hip cafe. The latter is considerably more complex and expensive.

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By rusty (registered) - website | Posted July 04, 2007 at 15:32:53

Come on Jason, stop surfing and GET TO IT!

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