The Body Shop Canada

Wi-fi zones limited to downtown (con't)

Today and tomorrow our region is playing host to a New York-based official from the Intelligent Community Forum (ICF) who will assess whether the city and county’s high tech infrastructure and public-private high tech linkages are enough to award the region the number one spot on its smart communities list.

Windsor-Essex placed among the top seven areas worldwide in making the ICF’s intelligent communities shortlist.

Kristina Verner, research and development officer with the University of Windsor’s Centre for Smart Community Innovation, which is coordinating Windsor’s bid in the competition, said the idea of making all of Windsor a wi-fi zone has been “pursued” and is not off the table.

“It’s still on the radar,” she said.

But, she suggested, having the entire city a hot zone is easier said than done.

A major difficulty is making sure the system is secure.

“You want to make sure the wi-fi hotspots have the proper security on them so people aren’t sharing their personal info because signals aren’t encrypted.”

Verner said that wi-fi areas can be prone to misuse by unsavoury elements.

“A lot of these wi-fi hotspots in the past have been used as sort of havens, if you will, for unethical or amoral or illegal behaviour.”

In Canada, the city of Fredericton is entirely a hot zone with its Fred eZone network.

But most cities only have free wi-fi in their downtown cores or in public institutions.

Former DWBIA chair Ron Balla pushed for downtown-wide wi-fi after his business, The Coffee Exchange, became the first business in the core to offer customers access to the Internet in 1994.

It cost “upwards of $50,000,” he said of the downtown-wide initiative.

Balla thinks wi-fi should be expanded at least to other BIAs, parks and the riverfront, “places where people congregate.”

But he cast doubt on whether wi-fi should be city wide.

“I think it’s about cost and effectiveness,” he said, noting there could be some competitive issues with private Internet service providers if wi-fi was made too available.

In Windsor, like other cities, free Internet access is also usually available at coffee shops and hotels.

Verner said that before expanding wi-fi in the city, the priority is getting broadband extended into Essex County.

This comes under the Rural Connections Broadband Program, a partnership between the Ontario government and local towns, with the government investing tens of millions of dollars across the province.

“We do have wi-fi hot spots that we’re creating out in the rural areas as part of the rural connections program,” Verner said.

“So we’ll start to see more of those cropping up.”

These could be in cooperation with local business associations.

Verner said after the rural towns have adequate broadband then her organization could turn its attention back to Windsor.

That, she said is “sort of the second priority for us.”

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