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Toronto councillors pulled the plug on the idea of extending free Wi-Fi service to city parks and other publicly accessible places at the Nov. 21 meeting of the city’s Government Management committee.
The committee voted to defer indefinitely the motion brought forward by St. Paul’s Councillor Josh Matlow after hearing from residents worried about the possible health impacts of Wi-Fi operating in public spaces.
Matlow argued the eventual provision of free public Wi-Fi would boost Toronto’s tourism and also assist lower-income Torontonians in accessing the Internet.
“It’s a great attraction for tourists, but there’s also a digital divide,” said Matlow, noting that only a quarter of residents in Toronto Community Housing (TCHC) have access to Wi-Fi Internet service. “Many of us take it for granted we can go to the major telecommunications companies to get service, but there are may residents who don’t.”
Matlow argued the city would only be studying ways to involve other private sector partners in providing free Wi-Fi in some city parks.
But that didn’t wash with his fellow committee members. Toronto-Danforth Councillor Mary Fragedakis said she was concerned about possible health issues, but also issues of redundancy.
“Right now many people use their smartphones to access the Internet,” she said. “More than anything this could be obsolete before it’s built. Perhaps we should consider a service in libraries and at TCHC itself, to make sure this issue gets addressed.”
Committee chair David Shiner said he was personally mistrustful of over-the-air telecom technology.
“I really don’t want the public square filled with Wi-Fi and people going over there to get onto their Internet,” he said. “There are thousands of places through the city that provides that now.”