If you've ever surfed the Internet for free at San Francisco's City Hall, Boston's Harvard Square or Toronto's Harbourfront Centre – you have discovered a rarity in the world: a fee-free zone of wireless access called Universal WiFi.
Over the past decade, many municipalities across North America – including Toronto – talked big about providing free WiFi everywhere, formulating grandiose plans to make it as easy to pick up a signal as it was to access the local classic-rock station. The wisdom was that a wired city was a smarter city: more efficient, profitable and equitable. Those who typically couldn't afford access would suddenly have a free on-ramp to the information superhighway, as it was known back then. But in most cities, budgetary realities grounded their lofty plans.
Perhaps best known for his campaigns to stamp out squeegee kids and panhandling in Toronto – and cultivating an image as a right-wing foil to Mayor David Miller – Mr. Minnan-Wong is championing a plan to deliver wireless access to public-housing communities, and maybe the rest of Toronto, using a network of mini satellite-like dishes – an idea that would join it with San Francisco in the cause of democratizing WiFi.
“It's certainly not a new idea, but it's an investment in kids who might not otherwise have access to the information highway and families that can't afford Internet,” he added. “Their children are at a disadvantage to other kids who can afford it. This is an investment in knowledge, in education and also it provides benefits to families who are looking for jobs and adults who are looking to upgrade their skills.”
He intends to spend the summer hashing out the details before unveiling plans for a pilot project to the government management committee in September.
One of the most likely scenarios he has explored would involve a so-called “mesh network.” Residents in public-housing communities could mount mini satellite dishes on their rooftops, which act as transmitters, blanketing the vicinity with radio waves that can be accessed by a computer.