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Public Wi-Fi in the downtown core coming to Halifax by summer 2017

Municipal council narrowly connects with 9-8 vote passing free public Wi-Fi

4 min read
Kieran Leavitt

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Free public Wi-Fi is the first step to becoming a “smart-city”.

On Tuesday, after two and a half hours of in-depth deliberation, municipal council barely passed a motion awarding Bell Aliant the contract for providing free public Wi-Fi to the downtown core.

The contract will cost the city $2,631,655 for the five-year life cycle of the contract. Council can choose whether or not to renew it.

The area includes the Halifax waterfront, the Dartmouth waterfront, Grand Parade, Halifax North Public Library and the Halifax Central Library.

Lindell Smith, councillor for District 8 Halifax Peninsula North, was on the fence but ultimately voted against the motion.

“The reason that I voted against is that I definitely wanted to see a broader scope of things,” he told The Signal after the meeting, adding that data collection and its use by Bell was a concern that wasn’t fully addressed. Staff assured council that data collected by Bell would not be used by third parties or for marketing purposes.

Smith is happy that the project is starting, but isn’t convinced this was the right way to get it going.

“We have places outside of the core that either don’t have that free access or even rural communities that don’t have basic (access),” he says.

Other councillors deliberated this point as well.

District 1 councillor Steve Streatch says he has people in his district that don’t even have access to basic dial-up.

“I can’t, with a clear conscience, support this,” he said during the meeting.

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Waye Mason, councillor for District 7 Halifax South Downtown, opened the discussion with high praise for the project.

He was happy with the plan presented by staff assigned to compile an analysis of the contract put forward by Bell.

“The future is having a seamless single point of entry Wi-Fi,” he said during the meeting, adding that cities across Canada and the globe have been implementing this for a long time.

Mason thinks Halifax is late to the party and that they should have done this years ago. But back in 2014, when the idea was first discussed, the council wanted more analysis done.

“When I look back on it now, we were a penny wise and a pound foolish,” he said.

The plan only covers the outside portions of the waterfronts and public spaces.

Staff assured the council that users would be able to seamlessly move through zones of connectivity without being hassled to authenticate every time. If a user goes into a public establishment that also uses Bell, then they will experience seamless connectivity with no requirement to re-authenticate if they’ve done so once already.

They also made it clear that authentication, the splash screen (the screen that people are directed to when connecting to Wi-Fi on a device), and advertisements on said screen would be completely controlled by the city. This means the city can put events, announcements and anything concerning citizens up on the page.

Bell Aliant will be in charge of 24/7 network support and 24/7 end user support. They will also collect authentication data, according to the staff report. This information could be a phone number, an email, or a simple accepting of terms and conditions. It is up to the city’s discretion.

Staff also assured concerned councillors that the speeds offered by Bell will be much faster than those people experience in their homes.

Read a break down of the contract here

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