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Sarnia eyeing free downtown Wi-Fi

Published on

George Mathewson

Sarnia is looking into the process and cost of providing wireless Internet access in the downtown core.

Council approved a $15,000 study last week that will see city staff work with Bluewater Regional Networks — Bluewater Power’s Internet company — on the logistics, and whether any grants or partnerships are available.

A Wi-Fi network would give anyone with a smartphone, tablet or other Wi-Fi-capable gadget access to the Internet and the ability to check email or watch video without relying on cellular services.

The target area is Christina and Front streets between George and Wellington, as well as Centennial Park, with the option of expanding to other parks.

Sarnia has no money in the budget to provide Wi-Fi, and city staff acknowledge wireless technology — with a life cycle of three to five years, —could cost $140,000 to $168,000 per city block to set up.

Some communities provide wireless networks to attract visitors and investment. Stratford, for example, uses its three-year-old system as a sales tool for businesses and tourists.

“It would be really amazing to provide free Wi-Fi in places like our arenas, and for our residents to enjoy,” said Coun. Cindy Scholten, who supported the study.

Coun. Mike Kelch’s voted an emphatic no. Public Wi-Fi is too expensive, will require extra staffing and is best left to the private sector because it does a better job, he said.

“There was a time, many 10 years ago, when it might have made sense and governments may have thought this was a bold new vision, but there are cities that are taking their Wi-Fi down,” he said, adding, “The only thing worse than public Wi-Fi is hotel Wi-Fi.”

Point Edward is moving ahead with a public network and hopes to have it available at Michigan Avenue, Waterfront Park and the arena as early as this summer.




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