Nelson city council voted in favour Monday night of allowing Shaw to provide its free G0WiFi in public places in town including parks.
The Shaw service would be free and would not restrict other companies from providing the same service. Users do not have to be Shaw customers. City staff has estimated that for the city to provide the same service would cost about $100,000.
The vote followed controversy at November’s council meeting about having Wi-Fi in parks, which resulted in council asking its management staff to come up with a report weighing the pros and cons. That report was presented Monday.
The report contains information from Shaw, Health Canada, and the city’s information technology staff, and it is attached below.
It includes a summary of a Facebook poll conducted by staff that indicated 75 per cent of 168 respondents said they want access to WiFi in public places including parks, and 65 percent don’t care who provides the service.
The report also states that staff contacted a number of other communities that have worked with Shaw on a similar program, and found there was a positive experience.
“Does this mean that kids, instead of running around and playing in the park, will be doing this?” asked councillor Bob Adams, indicating the motions of typing on a keyboard.
“There is already cell service in parks so it is not something they don’t already have,” replied Frances Long, the city’s director of corporate services.
In response to questions from councillor Anna Purcell, Long said there are favourable cancellation clauses in the agreement with Shaw and there would be a separate agreement for each location. She said Shaw agrees to email users a maximum of two times advertising its services, and that no other Internet company has offered to provide this service.
Councillor Valerie Warmington expressed doubts about emissions.
“I know Health Canada studies say it is safe but when they were done there was much less of it [emissions] around. It does change your cellular structure. When you go out [of range of it]
you return to normal but when you are in it, your cells change. Sweden recognizes sensitivity to emissions as a health concern and it is included it in their health coverage. Many residents have come forward with their sensitivities.”
Warmington said she would like to see parks as a safe haven from more emissions. Long said council could decide to exclude parks from the contract if it wished.
Councillor Michael Dailly said he has softened his stance from his opposition at the previous meeting.
“We do have cell phone coverage in parks which is 10 to 20 times stronger than wireless, so I am backing off that issue. It is a convenience thing and I get the idea that people can already do that now on their phones. One question: Should we not see the agreement first [before the vote]?”
Long responded that council’s vote will be on a general agreement to pursue the project and does not mention locations. Individual agreements for each public location would follow later.
Mayor Deb Kozak said wireless and broadband capability is an equalizer that allows small towns to be more viable economically and to provide services previously only found in big cities.
“When Nelson moved forward to install broadband, it was on this wave,” she said. “People expect to have access to Wi-Fi and broadband. The citizens in our community are smart enough to put their devices down and appreciate this beautiful place. People here are engaged and living their lives. This would be an an enhancement to the community in terms of people wanting to come here.”
In addition to Lakeside, Gyro, and Cottonwood Falls parks, the proposal would also create Wi-Fi access in the public library, the youth centre, the Capitol Theatre and Touchstones. Some of these organizations already have access to broadband introduced by the city in recent years but, as in the library’s case, haven’t been able to afford the internal infrastructure necessary to make full use of it. With Shaw’s service that wouldn’t be necessary.
The staff report contains letters from all four of those organizations supporting the plan and opting in to it.
The report also contains a document from Health Canada stating that the overwhelming balance of scientific studies indicate Wi-Fi emissions are not a health hazard, and a letter from Shaw stating that it has 78 similar agreements with municipalities across the country.
The vote to go ahead with the Shaw program passed with Warmington voting against it and councillor Robin Cherbo absent.