Toronto the Good & Wire Free

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The Star is reporting on a Toronto Hydro wifi initiative that may or may not be a thorn in the side of Ted Rogers.

Mayor David Miller will join Toronto Hydro executives on Tuesday to officially announce the initiative, which will be the largest of its kind ever undertaken in Canada and could undermine commercial product offerings from Rogers Wireless, Telus Mobility and Bell Mobility.

I look forward to wifi being everywhere, but this idea of “Municipal WiFi” can be approached from a variety of ways. There are those who think a pay-per-use sort of wifi that Toronto Hydro is planning is the way to go (and perhaps it is) but then what about Wifi being as important a piece of civic infrastructure as roads and sewers? A wifi-full city is good for business, just as the roads are — so wouldn’t charging for access be like setting up tolls on all our roads so “old economy” business and movement paid for municipal infrastructure too? You need to buy into the idea that wifi is indeed as important as roads, and to many people working in the “information economy,” it is — perhaps as important as keeping tolls off roads would be for, say, Fed Ex.

Certainly somebody has to pay for it, and we already know how broke the city is, where it can’t even afford to fix existing infrastructure — so charging for use is a valid model. But the folks at Wireless Toronto offer an alternative: “community” wireless. Here, various establishments cover the cost of Wifi installation, and the increased traffic in their store/cafe/restaurant is the net benefit. There are cafe’s all over this city that I really like, but don’t have Wifi, so I don’t go so much. I’m thinking of places like the nice Lettieri at Church and Wellesley. For a while somebody’s open network in the apartment above worked, but now it doesn’t (and another person has a cheekily-named network “bastards wouldn’t share with me” that is predictably closed). So I don’t go so much anymore. But Toronto Wireless has a site at the cafe in 401 Richmond, so I’ve started going there sometimes.

What sets Toronto Wireless apart, I think, is that it also offers a sense of community — each site has space local content (upcoming events, etc.), and you can see who else is on at that location. So it’s wifi plus the potential for a lot more as this community aspect evolves and more people start using it. Tell your favoriate bar or cafe about it.