Another attempt at Toronto muni wifi?

At today’s Government Management Committee meeting, a report will be received updating the committee on three public policy initiatives:

  1. Setting up a “Meraki-style” mesh network in one of the priority neighbourhoods.
  2. Allowing the Oxford Group to install free-to-use, sponsored public Internet terminals in one of the priority neighbourhoods.
  3. Setting up free-to-use public wifi at City Hall and in publicly-accessible areas in other city buildings.

The report is here; it’s quite good, actually:
http://www.toronto.ca/legdocs/mmis/2009/gm/bgrd/backgroundfile-25011.pdf

In addition, the committee invited (through an RFI) “major leaders in the Wireless marketplace” to “present an overview of their Wireless strategic directions and plans.” Each will have 15-20 minutes to present. There’s a bit of info on this here: http://www.toronto.ca/legdocs/mmis/2009/gm/bgrd/backgroundfile-25060.pdf

Item 26.21 is scheduled for 1:30pm, and the meeting is in Committee Room 1; I hope to be there.

As I mentioned, I think the Staff Report is pretty good — it’s the first City document I’ve seen that shows a realistic approach to public wifi. Some highlights & thoughts:
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Toronto Hydro Telecom Wi-Fi Selloff: Shortsighted and Shady

Re: $75M from Wi-Fi sale to be used for public housing, Toronto Star, Jun 14, 2008 http://www.thestar.com/News/GTA/article/443356

Andrew Clement

The Toronto Star’s story about the sale of Toronto Hydro Telecom (THT), by taking its cue from Mayor Miller’s spin about community housing, misses several key points. While remedying the deplorable state of Toronto’s public housing is worthy of support, the unseemly haste to divvy up the spoils obscures the missed golden opportunity that holding on to THT would represent. Part of the problem can rightly be laid at the feet of the former Tory government that both down-loaded housing to the City without adequate financing and hobbled it from properly taking advantage of its telecom asset — i.e. more on-going damage the Harris government is still wreaking on Ontario’s public institutions. Continue reading

MuniWireless: the monorail of the decade

Anthony totally-on-the-mark:

“They are the monorails of this decade: the wrong technology, totally overpromised and completely undelivered,” said Anthony Townsend, research director at the Institute for the Future, a think tank.

From “Cities Struggle With Wireless Internet” from the Houston Chronicle.¬† The article describes the hassles and disappointments experienced by users, citizens, politicians and city staff in relation to muniwireless projects in various cities in the US.

OneZone no longer free

As of this Tuesday (April 24th), Toronto Hydro Telecom’s OneZone network started charging for access. Over the course of their 7.5-month free trial, they made some improvements to the network, hardware and software. An independent company rated theirs the fastest “municipal” wifi network around. Still, I often had trouble obtaining an IP address, getting to the login screen, and using any AJAX-based sites. Which is too bad, ’cause the two sites I normally want access to while I’m downtown are GMail and Google Maps — both of which were normally very sluggish on OneZone.

I wish them luck with their monetization. I’m unlikely to use the network again — I don’t live in the “zone”, and though my office is within it, there’s no signal in sight. (I guess the poles on Spadina weren’t part of the package they bought from the city, under questionable circumstances.)

If they’re short on cash, here’s a suggestion: pre-paid service with per-minute billing. I’ll happily today pay you $20 on my credit card, if I know that I’ll be able to (reliably) use the service anytime I’m downtown, at 5 (or maybe even 10) cents per minute.

Not many papers or blogs seem to have covered this yet; here are the ones I could find:

ITWorldCanada.com: Tale of two cities – WiFi gap between Fredericton and Toronto

http://www.itworldcanada.com:80/a/Voice-Data-and-IP/4f9ac4d0-9419-4af9-94fb-73a73dea7405.html

Tale of two cities – WiFi gap between Fredericton and Toronto
By: Nestor Arellano
ITWorldCanada.com  (25 Jan 2007)

In a little more than a month from now, users of the country’s largest WiFi network ‚Äì Toronto’s recently launched One Zone ‚Äì will begin paying up to $29 a month for the privilege of cruising the information highway wirelessly.

By contrast, residents of City of Fredericton, New Brunswick will continue to enjoy free access to Fred e Zone, their city’s older, though weaker, WiFi network.

The WiFi divide between the two cities resides not in technology or funding but rather in vision and political will, according to an information studies professor.

The City of Fredericton and the Toronto Hydro Telecom Inc. (THT) made separate presentations on their respective WiFi networks at the Wireless Cities Summit in Toronto yesterday.

“Fredericton had the political will to stick to their objective of providing WiFi as a public service; our city did not,” said Andrew Clement, professor of information studies at the Knowledge Media Design Institute of the University of Toronto.

Toronto Hydro Telecom, the quasi-private corporation that owns One Zone, set out to build a paid service instead, said Clement.

He said One Zone has the more robust system that can penetrate the city core’s buildings and “urban canyons” while Fred e Zone was designed for lighter use.

Divergent “visions and ambitions” fueled the two cities’ quest for a WiFi network, according to Clement.

In 1997, Fredericton was paying premium fees to a telecom company for connectivity because there was no competition in their area and no market pressure to drive prices down, said Maurice Gallant, the city‚Äôs chief information officer (CIO). “We were paying three times the prices people in Toronto were paying.”

This drove the city of some 80,000 residents to consider, in 2000, to becoming its own wireless service provider.

Fredericton created a not-for-profit telecom co-operative called the e-Novations ComNet Inc. after learning Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) rules forbade governments from deploying network hardware on existing telephone and electric poles but allowed access to entities that compete with incumbent telecom companies.

The co-op was able to recruit 35 key businesses and organizations that became the paying subscribers. The rest of the users have free access because they consume the excess broadband that subscribers are not using.

Fredericton used city structures such as water towers, buildings and traffic lights to install transmitters. The first phase of the project cost $150,000 and the city provided an additional $300,000 for further expansion.

To date, Fredericton has more than 1,200 802.11 g WiFi access points. Gallant said Fredericton sees Fred e Zone as an “intellectual city structure” that should be open to the public. “You don’t charge people for walking on the sidewalk or strolling in the park. Why should you charge them for WiFi access?”

He admitted the network had some shortcomings. It cannot reach everyone and “theoretically free users might not be able to gain access if all the 35 subscribers decided to use up all their bandwidth at the same time.”

“No other city government is in the type of project we’re in because they can’t find the profit in it. But don’t ask me about ROI (return of investment), because we’re not looking for it,” said Gallant.

Sharyn Gravelle, vice-president, wireless, THT, holds a different view. “Wi-Fi networks shouldn’t be funded through taxes,” she says.

Toronto Hydro chose a ‚Äúsustainable‚Äù, paid-for model for One Zone because the corporation “is not a part of the city or the public-private environment and has an obligation to its shareholders to turn in a profit,” said Gravelle. One Zone now covers a high density area of roughly six square kilometers, encompassing 235 city blocks. It offers connection speeds of up to seven megabits per second.

THT purchased light posts within the WiFi zone for $60 million and perched WiFi gear on every fourth or fifth pole.

Gravelle said Toronto Hydro Telecom is targeting a $2 million profit from most corporate users and hopes to recoup its investments within a year. The more profit One Zone makes, the more dividends Toronto Hydro shareholders get, she said.

The first six months of service are free, but come March 6 three payment plans will be offered: a pre-paid monthly subscription for $29, a 24-hour plan for $10 and an hourly rate of $5.

Clement, however, has qualms about this model.

“Why should the people who are supposed to own THT, have to pay a high price for something they own?” he asked, adding that THT is a telecom subsidiary of Toronto Hydro Corp. which is a fully owned by the city of Toronto.

However, Gravelle maintains THT is a ‚Äústand alone department of Toronto Hydro and not a part of the city or the public-private environment.‚Äù “There’s no such thing as a free lunch, someone has to pay for it somewhere,” said Gravelle.

She said One Zone has registered some 30,000 authenticated users and hope to bump this number up to 50,000 by the time it starts charging fees. Earlier this year an Ottawa-based not-for-profit Internet development organization said that THT was overpricing WiFi access .

Bill St. Arnaud, senior director of Canarie Inc. “Toronto probably has the most expensive WiFi in the world.” This was disputed by Gravelle who said One Zone charges competitive rates.

Fun wifi event January 23rd, you’re all invited

Talk/Drinks/Beats at Lot 16 (1136 Queen St West)
Tuesday Jan 23, 2007 7-11PM
No cover, cash bar, free nibbles

7:00 PM – Welcome & Social
8:00 PM – Talks & Discussion
9:30 PM – DJ & Drinks

Wireless Toronto is hosting an open discussion/meet & greet with some
of Canada’s best known community wifi innovators and researchers at the
Lot 16 bar.

Featuring brief presentations by Michael Lenczner of Ile Sans Fil and Graham Longford from the Community Wireless Infrastructure Research Project.

If you’re curious about wifi, social media, alternative communications,
telecom policy… come join us on Jan 23rd for a fun night.

Sign up on Upcoming, Locate the venue on Google Maps

Toronto Star Op-Ed: How long will Toronto’s wireless network be free?

Toronto Hydro Telecom’s launch of its free wireless Internet service in the city’s financial district yesterday puts Toronto at the forefront of hundreds of other North American municipalities that are deploying municipal wireless (or WiFi) networks. While we applaud Toronto Hydro Telecom for the bold vision and ambitious scope of this project, the plan to treat it as a commercial, profit-making business seriously undermines its potential as an innovative public service bringing widespread benefits to Torontonians.[…]

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Toronto Hydro Telecom’s OneZone: First Impressions

toronto hydro onezone launch THT_Launch2.jpg

Today was the official launch for Toronto Hydro Telecom’s One Zone in the downtown core. I wasn’t able to go, but Edward went, and sent some photos and an excellent commentary right after the launch event concluded.

One of the comments he makes, answers a question many of us at Wireless Toronto get when discussing Wi-Fi (commercial or otherwise) in Toronto:

One Zone and WT are in different ‘businesses.’ WT exists to provide free-to-end-user service in indoor and outdoor publicly accessible spaces, with the low-cost service sponsored by the site host or an interested third-party, such as the South St. Lawrence Tenant’s Association at St. Lawrence Market, Kijiji and the Friends of Dufferin Grove and Dufferin Grove Park, or Dundas Square. One Zone is in the business (after the free trial period) of selling a competitively priced WiFi service to single end users in the downtown core ($5 per hour, $10 per day, $29+ per month).

He also reports his first impressions as a user, and well, nobody’s perfect, right? As with other newly launched citywide networks (see Peter Cochrane’s description of his user experience with the Norwich network), THT’s “OneZone” appears to have a few glitches to work out in terms of signal strength and speed.

Anyhow, read on for Edward’s full report… (Thanks Edward!)

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Launch: Toronto Hydro Telecom’s Wi-Fi Network

After¬†a 2-month delay, THT is¬†(officially) launching the 1st phase of their wi-fi network in the downtown financial district.¬† Wednesday’s launch at the Toronto Stock Exchange (TSX) in the heart of Toronto’s financial core is emblematic of THT’s (and other u-telcos’)¬†enterprise-oriented strategy.¬†

Toronto Hydro Telecom Goes Live with Phase 1 of Canada’s Largest WiFi Network in Toronto’s Financial Core.

WHEN:     WEDNESDAY, SEPTEMBER 6, 2006
               11 am Р12 noon

WHERE:    TSX Broadcast Centre
               The Exchange Tower
               130 King Street West

WHO:       Clare Copeland, Chair, Board of Directors, Toronto Hydro Corporation
               David Miller, Mayor, City of Toronto
               David Dobbin, President, Toronto Hydro Telecom Inc.