The free ride for Toronto's downtown widely-lauded WiFi service is over, and already the new Hydro One provided fee based service appears to have hit a snag.
With a subscriber base conversion rate of somewhere in the region of 10 percent, it looks as if the introduction of the $30 per month surfing charge has put the project on the skids.
"There had been talk of blanketing the entire city within three years. Now, Hydro president David Dobbin says 4,000 subscribers would be required before making the leap to the rest of the city," reports the Star.
Toronto's WiFi woes are nothing new. Many North American municipalities have attempted to play ISP by providing citywide wireless internet coverage, only to find some obstacle or other in their way.
"Three years ago, a wireless Philadelphia was conceived as a municipal project that would help the city's poor get online," said Ryan Nichols, spokesperson for Wireless Philadelphia.
However, as the Star article points out, "That project changed hands when telecom companies began to complain that municipal wireless would hinder competition. After years of political squabbling among the three levels of government, the project was handed over to Internet service provider EarthLink, which charges $19.95 (U.S.) per month for access."
Another obstacle is the limitations of the current technology and the advent of newer, better solutions on the way:
"David Robinson, vice-president of business implementation at Rogers, said while WiFi worked well in locations like coffee shops, it would provide spotty coverage in areas crowded by trees and concrete. And it makes little sense to invest in the technology when it's next incarnation, WiMax, is what the techies are buzzing about."
WiMax is similar to WiFi, but it can cover far greater distances and offers faster throughput.
"I simply cannot comprehend why anyone would build a metropolitan WiFi network when WiMax is right around the corner, unless they're looking for a tax loss," Robinson said.
All this brings to mind that age old question of what role municipal government should play in running the business of the city, especially when it's a business they know very little about. In Hamilton, politicians have been reluctant to take the lead on the Lister development for precisely those reasons.
Similarly, the running of Hamilton Airport and Copps Coliseum has been a lightning rod for criticism.
All this is something to keep in mind as Hamilton presses ahead with its own soon-to-be-launched WiFi service.
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