TORONTO – The City of Toronto announced a Wi-Fi service that could be enough to entice some residents away from wireline Internet service provided by cable companies and incumbents, according to Toronto Hydro Telecom president David Dobbin.

The service is designed to cover the city’s downtown core — the heart of it’s business district.

It will cover an area that spans east to west from Spadina Avenue to Jarvis Street and north to south from Bloor Street to Front Street — roughly six square kilometres.

Toronto Hydro Telecom, the telecommunications arm of Toronto Hydro Corp., will be responsible for the service, which will be made available via a series of access points attached to street lighting poles.

Toronto Hydro bought the street-light system last year for $60 million, making it possible for the poles to serve as convenient Wi-Fi transmitters.

A request for proposals, or RFP, has been issued for the equipment to be attached to the poles and a preliminary level of service is expected for June of this year. Once a vendor has been selected, the equipment will be installed by Toronto.

The first zone to receive service will be Toronto’s financial district, an area which covers the Toronto Stock Exchange.

A new era
Four other zones will follow and the entire downtown will receive coverage by the end of 2006. City officials expressed an interest in a Wi-Fi offering last year, but for the much smaller area of Nathan Philips square, a public meeting place outside City Hall.

“Today’s announcement signals a new era of telecommunications in Toronto,” said Mayor David Miller.

He compared the downtown initiative to municipal Wi-Fi efforts such as those underway in San Francisco, Philadelphia and London.

Other Canadian municipalities have rolled out their own public Wi-Fi services, including Fredericton and Waterloo, Ont., but Toronto’s effort marks the largest to date. Ottawa also has a Wi-Fi zone which rolled out in 2004 when Dobbin was the chief operating officer at Ottawa Hydro.

The Ottawa zone, while much smaller than the level of coverage planned for Toronto, has been successful to date, said Dobbin.

Some Ottawa subscribers have migrated from DSL and cable services and adopted Wi-Fi as their main gateway to the Internet, he said. He hopes the same situation will develop in Toronto.

IDC Canada Ltd. telecommunications analyst Lawrence Surtees cited a “rising dissatisfaction” with the service levels provided by established Internet providers, which may result in a number of defections.

“How many people will come out of the woodwork and embrace it? It’s a bit early, but I think the municipalities that are looking to do this may be pleasantly surprised,” said Surtees.

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