By Adam Slight
While Apt613 has a pretty comprehensive list of WiFi hotspots available in Ottawa, these are mostly restricted to establishments where you are obligated to purchase a coffee or take out a library book in order to keep leeching the WiFi. What I want to talk about here is free public WiFi– a concept that remains fantasy at the moment in Ottawa, but could see free, accessible wireless Internet in squares, parks, city buses, and other public spaces throughout the city. This would not only allow people to access their computers and wireless devices freely on the go, but would also open up a huge number of opportunities for local businesses to use the Internet in cool, creative ways (for example, Ottawa Rickshaws would be able stream videos of passengers taking rickshaw rides rides right onto our website in real time!)
Here are some locations for free public wireless, where I think the opportunity is ripe.
Making the entire Byward Market wireless-friendly sounds like an ambitious task, but I think the rewards would be plentiful. The Byward Market is a giant outdoor public space where many people do business right on the street. Not just rickshaw runners, but fruit stand operators and street performers could all revitalize how they do business with a little bit of accessible Internet access. Even the homeless street population could enjoy a bit of upwards mobility by being able to access the Internet on a mobile device right on the street, for free.
Picture free wireless Internet in the many pedestrian-friendly zones in the Byward Market, like the Clarendon Courtyard, and tell me you wouldn’t be tempted to go do some laptop work on a park bench in the shade of a Byward Market courtyard on a summer day.
Speaking of BIAs…Sparks Street offers ample outdoor seating space surrounded by Ottawa’s densest office district. Offering free public WiFi along the Sparks Street corridor would inevitably attract office workers looking to escape outdoors on a sunny Friday afternoon, or those needing to use a mobile device on lunch break. Given statements this past summer made by Sparks Street Mall BIA executive director Les Gagné, this is the exact grade of consumer the re-imagined BIA is looking to attract to its streets. Turning Sparks Street into a WiFi hotspot could transform the area into a community known and respected for its free public WiFi.
The OC Transpo would earn many new fans by offering free WiFi with transit. For any enterprising individuals looking to get ahead on work or simple surf the Internet while making a long commute feel quicker, such an offering would no-doubt feel like a godsend. It may even be enough to convert drivers into bus passengers, reducing road congestion and making the world a greener place. If we’re going to be a city that embraces urban sprawl over centralization, we’d better start working on making our public transpo awesome.
What am I missing? Where would you like to see free public WiFi in Ottawa?