I hope WaterfronToronto is paying attention – here’s a map of the free wifi zone (via sponsors) at the waterfront in Montreal’s Old Port (source). The zone was set up for and is under the jurisdiction of Les Quais du Vieux-Port (The Quays of the Old Port) – a 47.3-hectare (117-acre) territory with 2.7 kilometres of St Lawrence River waterfront – which is itself an entity created and managed by the federal agency in control of the entire Old Port, Société du Vieux-Port de Montréal (Old Port of Montreal Corporation).
Apparently Telus is the sponsor responsible for providing the actual wifi service, with other sponsors covering the costs. While some of us might prefer that something like Wireless Toronto (a volunteer-run not-for-profit community group dedicated to setting up free wifi hotspots around the city) were the one’s running something like this, the size of Montreal’s wifi zone would probably be too infrastructurally complicated and expensive for a small group like Wireless Toronto. Wireless Toronto have set up one of their hotspots at York Quay at Harbourfront Centre, though it’s fairly geographically limited. One of the most interesting aspects of Montreal’s zone is how the two marina areas are deliberately included allowing wifi access from moored boats! Toronto Hydro’s One Zone wireless network (which covers most of the downtown area) is not free and does not currently cover any part of the waterfront, and I think it’s the wrong model to pursue for the waterfront. I think free wifi on the waterfront would be a great way to encourage waterfront users of all kinds, and would be the kind of forward-looking optimistic project we really need to kick off the “idea” of the waterfront revitalization.
However, we should be a little careful when we look at the Montreal model – the Old Port area controlled by the Corporation is federal land, but being owned and operated by the Corporation actually means it is not technically public space. There are in fact a list of “site rules“, buskers and other entertainers are auditioned and require permits (as with many other tourist areas), leafletting and soliciting are not allowed, “activities may not be held or promoted on the site without permission” and “filming or photography for other than personal use must be authorized”. These are dangerous precedents for Toronto’s waterfront – while this post has mostly been about free wifi, I think the principle of freedom needs to additionally extend to the use of public space at the waterfront.