Councillor Josh Matlow

Metro: Toronto lags behind on public Wi-Fi: Councillor

April 22, 2015
Metro
Luke Simcoe

Whither our Wi-Fi?

While cities as small as Stratford, Ont. and as large as New York push forward on municipal Wi-Fi initiatives, plans for anything similar in Toronto continue to move at dial-up speed.

“When I brought the issue to City Hall, I found myself hitting a huge brick wall,” said Coun. Josh Matlow, the architect of a failed pitch to add Wi-Fi to municipal parks and squares in 2013.

After having his proposal “punted” from committee to committee, Matlow had to contend with the “anti-Wi-Fi lobby,” a group of residents concerned about the potential health effects of wireless Internet.

The group’s “fear-based arguments” convinced his fellow councillors to kibosh the idea, Matlow said.

Since then, cities across North America have rolled out free public Wi-Fi programs. Some have even laid their own fiber optic Internet cable, said Josh Tabish with Open Media.

In New York, old payphones have been turned into Wi-Fi hotspots and Mayor Bill de Blasio has vowed to blanket the Big Apple in wireless Internet by 2025.

While he acknowledged that there have been gains – notably adding Wi-Fi to downtown subway stations – Matlow says Toronto can’t afford any more Wi-Fi lag.

“It’s an equity issue,” he said. “While many of us take for granted that we have Wi-Fi in our homes … there are many in the city who don’t have the same access. There are children in the city who don’t have the same access.”

According to Statistics Canada, only a quarter of Canada’s poorest households have wireless Internet access.

Tabish called free municipal Wi-Fi a “no brainer,” and said it can serve as a revenue tool for cities.

At the very least, Matlow believes adding Wi-Fi to downtown Toronto could be done on a cost recovery basis by partnering with advertisers or telecom companies.

“Whether we like it or not, we’re in a tech-centric world,” he said. “And the cities that are tech-centric are the ones that are successful.”

To read the article in its original form, click here.

2021-02-03T16:09:42+00:00
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