For some it was an obstacle to human interaction and exercise, to others, a welcome saving and convenience.
In the end, the majority of city council voted for a proposal from Shaw Cablesystems Limited to provide free wifi access in some city parks and facilities.
The agreement allows Shaw to use city property to install telecommunications devices and equipment for its wi-fi access points, while Shaw extends “free limited wi-fi hotspot services to all visitors and residents in exchange for location access.”
Parks listed in the agreement are: Blackburn Park, the Fall Fairgrounds, Klahani Park and Marine Peace Park. Facilities listed are: City of Salmon Arm, Little Mountain Sports Complex, SASCU Indoor Sports Complex, SASCU Recreation Centre and Shaw Centre.
Although the Shuswap Recreation Society already has an agreement with Shaw to provide wi-fi services at the sports complex at Little Mountain, at the SASCU Recreation Centre and at the Shaw Centre, that agreement allows only existing Shaw customers to access wifi through their accounts. The new agreement would extend the free service to all residents and visitors.
The city also has an agreement with Shaw for Internet services for city operations. In turn, the city offers free public wi-fi access at city hall. Under the new agreement, Shaw would provide the free access at city hall.
Coun. Alan Harrison asked that parks be excluded from the agreement, noting he is not opposed to free wi-fi indoors.
“First of all, the man from Shaw was quite enthusiastic when he was here. We’re controlling this process,” Harrison said, asking why council would want people to go to parks, perhaps with their family, and have wi-fi access. “To me, there is too much of that already. To me, people go to parks to do things other than wi-fi. I would like to not see it there.”
Coun. Debbie Cannon, on the other hand, said it would be good to have another park included in the free wi-fi, perhaps Canoe.
Coun. Chad Eliason said he understands Harrison’s wish to encourage people to get out and play instead of using phones and devices. However, he said, the ability to use data in parks already exists.
“To me, it’s not if people are going to use their phone in parks, it’s whether they’re saving money on data… Again, I don’t encourage people to go to parks and use the phone… but this makes it economical.”
Coun. Denise Reimer said she concurs with Eliason.
“I just returned from Europe and it was beneficial to use wi-fi in all areas. There are some things we can and can’t control; to me it’s down to choice. To say we won’t provide it, it won’t change the decision process. It’s an ideal world to think everyone will go to the park and not turn on cell phones, but I don’t think it’s realistic.”
“Who are we to make that decision for them? They can already do that when they go to parks… Who are we to not give them that option to take advantage of free wifi?”
Coun. Marg Kentel agreed with Harrison.
“When I’m out and about, there are lots of places with free wi-fi. People will seek it out. They can go to Tim Hortons or somewhere close.”
Coun. Ken Jamieson also sided with Harrison.
“I’m a guy who back-packed Central America in the late ’70s and phoned home once. I’m stick-handling my way through a new part of history,” he said, adding that he doesn’t think free wi-fi in parks is necessary.
Harrison concluded: “I’m very respectful of the discussion and I’ve learned some things. To me there’s not really a right or wrong answer, it’s how you feel about the technology. I think it’s important we drive the process. I think by providing free wi-fi in the parks, we’re encouraging people to use it there, as it’s cheaper… This is an opportunity for us to lead as a city.”
The vote approving the agreement was 4-3, with Mayor Nancy Cooper, Cannon, Eliason and Reimer voting in favour.