Councillor Josh Matlow

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

April 22, 2015
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.

Page Reader Press Enter to Read Page Content Out Loud Press Enter to Pause or Restart Reading Page Content Out Loud Press Enter to Stop Reading Page Content Out Loud Screen Reader Support