This week in Japan, the city of Osaka rolled out a new initiative offering free wireless Internet citywide. Apparently this is a big deal for Japan as free to use Wi-Fi hotspots are few and far between.
The Osaka initiative is primarily aimed at aiding tourists in the city and reminds me of an initiative that Whistler had been looking into during my time there as a reporter. Hoping to provide guests and residents with even more of reason to stay in the village, Whistler officials looked into the feasibility of covering the entire village in delicious, free Wi-Fi. When it was learned it would cost around $500,000 to implement with an annual operating cost of $250,000 Whistler council backed down, but the intent was commendable.
Elsewhere in Canada, several cities offer free Wi-Fi at downtown cores or city-run facilities. The City of Edmonton offers it to anyone at many city parks and recreation centres while Windsor's business improvement association maintains a free network throughout its downtown core.
In Surrey, free Wi-Fi is available at libraries and city hall, but will we ever see it across the city? Due to Surrey's geographic size, the likelihood of this coming to fruition anytime soon isn't good, but as the demand grows and people become increasingly attached to their devices (for better or worse), businesses and cities alike are seeing free Wi-Fi as a key method of keeping customers and residents happy.
This is evidenced in a recent initiative rolled out by Shaw Communications, which has set up free Wi-Fi hotspots around the Lower Mainland that are only accessible to Shaw users. Nobody asked them to do this but they went ahead and did it anyways, and as a Shaw user myself, I can say that it does work in keeping me content.
This is especially good news when it seems cellphone data plans appear to be getting inexplicably more expensive while offering less.
For example, both Fido and Rogers both offer 500MB and 1GB of data on what they dub to be their "Max Plans." These are the plans that users are required to sign up for if they would like a premium smartphone, such as the latest iPhone. How much do they charge you for these pitiful amounts of data? The 500MB plan costs $75 while the 1GB plan comes in at $85. Seriously.
In a day and age when people are relying more and more on their smartphones for work, socializing, reading news and entertainment what better time to gouge the customers that would be using the most data? Remember those awesome 6GB plans of yesteryear? Let's do that again.
But as Wi-Fi becomes more and more available, perhaps it'll go a long way in eventually forcing users off of having to rely on stingy phone carriers and, heaven forbid, make people happy.
I am reminded now of a UN report released in 2011 that sparked debate over Internet being a basic human right. With that in mind, how interesting would it be if a city did offer free Wi-Fi across the board and collected taxes to fund it? The private sector may not be too stoked on the idea, but it could get more people online and save them money in the long run. Food for thought.