Tuesday, March 7, 2006

Toronto Hydro Jumping into Muni WiFi

It's been a busy day in IP land, and I haven't even gotten to the Bell Canada news yet.

Today, Toronto Hydro announced plans to offer municipal WiFi later this year, much like what Philadelphia is doing with Earthlink. Well, for all the talk about a lack of competition, you knew it was just a matter of time before the utilities started looking at muni WiFi. Toronto Hydro actually has a pretty extensive fiber network, and has been marketing IP connectivity to businesses for some time, so this isn't as huge a leap as it sounds. Bet you didn't know they have a telecom division that offers VoIP.

Mark Evans posted about this yesterday, and has a nice article about it in the National Post. Mark's article rightly notes that for all the fiscal problems Toronto is facing, why get into WiFi?

The business model is not proven, and naturally the incumbents are not welcoming the news. Is this really the best use of taxpayer dollars in a market that is pretty well served already? Toronto has always been fiscally conservative, and does not have many options for supporting new ventures like this. For the benefit of readers outside of Canada, it's important to understand that Canadian cities are not allowed to issue bonds, which are vital to the growth plans of American cities. Toronto is totally dependent on tax dollars and subsidies from provincial and federal government agencies. With so many other pressing infrastructure issues, and limited sources for funding, one really has to wonder about the viability of this venture. If it works, great - it puts Toronto on the map as a wireless tech leader - which will hopefully attract investment, jobs, etc. That's the plan, but if doesn't pan out, well - that's another blog posting.

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