No free lunches

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Unlike WiFi spots set up by other municipalities in other parts of the world, Toronto Hydro Telecom’s (THT) One Zone is going to be a paid service.

A company executive justified this noting that – though a quasi-public entity – THT has to operate like a private company.

“We give dividends back to the city,” said Dino Farinaccia, director of marketing and communication of THT. “But we have a responsibility to our shareholders as well. Just like any firm we have to make a profit.”

While the profit model may be required for THT, it is not ideal for a municipal WiFi initiative, according to one industry insider.

Bill St. Arnaud, senior director for advanced networks at Ottawa-based Canarie Inc. said Toronto should be looking to Sweden where the broadband network is owned by the users.

Other instances – closer to home – of free WiFi offerings were cited by Doug Cooper, country manager for Intel Corp. of Canada. (Intel has been working with municipalities around the world to develop citywide WiFi networks through its Digital Communities program).

Cooper noted that Fredericton, New Brunswick and New York provide free WiFi service to the public.

In Taipei, Taiwan WiFi networks have been deployed to aid government service workers with duties such as meter data gathering. However, the infrastructure also provides Internet access to transit passengers, Cooper said.

A Canadian analyst, however, cautioned against comparing WiFi initiatives in different geographies. “Not all networks are the same. What works for one municipality may not work for another,” said Stefan Dubowski, managing editor for the Ottawa-based research firm Decima Reports Inc.

Sharyn Gravelle, THT’s vice president, wireless services noted that the One Zone network is not being funded by the city or rate payers. She said to construct this network, THT dug into its own cash assets. “It was a low capital project that required less than $2 million.”

Toronto Hydro Telecom intends to move into private markets, but Cooper believes there can be wider civic uses for such a network.

“Imagine a hydro technician working on a city pipeline. He can immediately download schematics and maps from the head office data base or transmit to headquarters and other colleagues any data that he gathers from the field,”

He said a WiFi network could also be a huge benefit to a 911 crew transporting a patient. “Treatment advisories or even medical info can be transmitted to the emergency vehicle to help paramedics deal with the patient’s condition even before the ambulance reaches the hospital.”

Read Part 1 of this article: Say “hi” to WiFi in downtown T.O.

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