Not so fast, Nelson city council told its management staff when it presented a proposal from Shaw Cable about public Wi-Fi at a council meeting last week.
Shaw has offered to install its GoWi-Fi service in public places at no cost to the city. It’s a project that, were the city to undertake it on its own, would cost around $100,000 to operate, city manager Kevin Cormack said. The agreement with Shaw would be non-exclusive (other companies could offer the same service in the same locations) and the service would be open to everyone, not just Shaw customers.
“Access to free public Wi-Fi is an increasing expectation of the public,” reads the staff recommendation. “Using Shaw to provide this service means that the city will incur neither capital costs to install the service nor ongoing costs to maintain the service. City resources will not be used to provide customer service and support. Public works (parks) have provided their full support for provision of free public Wi-Fi in the city parks.”
According to the proposal, Wi-Fi would be installed in Gyro Park, Lakeside Park, and Cottonwood Falls Park and augment Wi-Fi already available in the library and youth centre. The plan also includes the Capitol Theatre and Touchstones, but the recommendation documents say these are “pending input.”
Councillors Michael Dailly and Anna Purcell were skeptical.
“Do we want to live in a world where you go to a park and everyone is on their computer?” Dailly asked. “I hear the frequencies are fairly low, but there are people sensitive to even the low band, so I’m reluctant to open this door in public space. We have places in the city set up to be social places and I find doing this is anti-social. We have to draw the line at parks.”
“It might be free but the cost is us being a vehicle for marketing and commercial activity,” Purcell said. “I am reluctant to give my email address. It would be a deterrent to me. I am not afraid of Wi-Fi and would like to see Wi-Fi on the main street, something that is genuinely free and accessible with no strings attached.”
Councillor Valerie Warmington said she wanted to consult with other municipalities about their experience. She wondered about emissions and said council should look at what the Federation of Canadian Municipalities says about that.
The materials given to council by Shaw state that “Shaw’s outdoor access points emit a similar RF energy to a cordless phone, a bar code scanner at the grocery store, or a baby monitor.”
But emissions were not Warmington’s only concern.
“The corporatization of the commons does not feel right to me,” she said. “It might be better to have our own, even though it would be more money and time to do so.”
City manager Kevin Cormack pointed out many public spaces such as the Civic Theatre, Nelson and District Community Complex, and Capitol Theatre have corporate sponsors. Warmington responded that the Shaw sponsorship would be “coming with a cost. We have to give our email address. There is a different relationship.”
Councillor Robin Cherbo had his doubts too.
“I am opposed to having it in parks. They are a place of rest, not a place where you want to see everyone on their computers. And I have a problem with getting in bed with a corporation. I think we should stay away from that.”
Cherbo wanted council to take more time to think about it, but his motion to do that was defeated.
Mayor Deb Kozak said the deal would not mean the city would be endorsing Shaw, and, appearing to speak in favour of the proposal, said “I don’t think we should be monitoring what people do with their leisure time.”
The motion to take on the project was defeated, with only Kozak and councillor Bob Adams voting in favour.
Another motion was then put forward which passed with only Dailly opposed. It reads:
“That staff provide a report with more information on free public Wi-Fi using Shaw GoWi-Fi as the service provider which will include: feedback from other municipalities using the service, public consultation using the city’s Facebook page, public Wi-fi at the Nelson Public Library, and public Wi-FI at the NDCC.”
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