News / Kitchener

Free public wi-fi in Waterloo Region

Sam Quarrey, 18, worked on his skateboard moves in the middle of Waterloo Public Square in the Tuesday sunshine.

And when the Wilfrid Laurier University student takes a break from Ollies, he can flip out his android phone and check his Facebook account. For free.

Waterloo’s uptown centre square is one of 18 city facilities that was hooked up with free public Wi-Fi last month. The internet is just a click away on any hand-held device.

“It’s pretty fast,” said Quarrey, who studies international development.

Fast and convenient and free. Just another reason to use a city facility.

Come on out and stay connected. That’s the selling point of free public Wi-Fi, which costs the city of Waterloo about $6,552 a year to offer.

Community centres like the Waterloo Rec Complex and RIM Park Sportsplex are also hooked up so patrons can stay connected when they visit.

“It is about bowing to the modern world,” city spokesperson Janice Works said. “But it’s also about just trying to provide better service to our visitors and patrons and make it a lot easier for people to spend time in these facilities.”

That includes parents who visit the Rec Complex to watch their kids swim or skate.

“Now, they can bring their laptop or whatever and do a few things while waiting for the children,” Works said.

In the near future, Waterloo plans to add free Wi-Fi services to nine more facilities, including the Canadian Clay and Glass Gallery.

No password is required. Just agree to the terms and conditions, and you’re on.

The Wi-Fi wave is now engulfing Cambridge, where city council this week agreed to spend about $9,889 to start up free service in and around city hall in Galt.

The annual cost to run it will be $1,728.

A city that’s trying to sell itself as hi-tech and progressive — recently announcing city workers will carry BlackBerry PlayBooks in the field — can hardly continue to ignore the Wi-Fi siren call after a couple years and at least one false start.

“Playing catch-up a bit,” said Angelo Pellegrino, Cambridge’s director of technology services.

So, within a few months, city staff will get a secure Wi-Fi service. The public can obtain a password, from the front desk, to access free Wi-Fi. It’s nothing extraordinary.

These days, it’s the common courtesy equivalent of giving people a chair to sit in while they wait for an appointment.

“You can go to a lot of different places now and there’s free access throughout,” Pellegrino said. “Especially in a business environment like this, in the council chambers where it’s not just anybody walking in for a coffee trying to connect. It’s usually business or people who are involved with the city, wanting to say something and maybe needing access to the internet.”

Libraries in Kitchener, Waterloo and Cambridge already offer free Wi-Fi service.

The Region offers secured Wi-Fi at some locations, including its Frederick Street headquarters in Kitchener. Wi-Fi is open and available at the regional airport terminal, regional employment resource centres and the main regional libraries in Elmira, New Hamburg, Ayr and Wellesley.

In Cambridge, city hall is a starting point. Expansion to other facilities seems inevitable.

“I don’t’ see why not,” Pellegrino said. “The seniors’ centres, the pools and things like that. Those are the community areas that people hang out.”

Kitchener, which offers few Wi-Fi access points, aims to get into the game shortly.

Dan Murray, the city’s acting information technology director, will take a staff report on the matter to the finance and corporate services committee on May 7. It will recommend a public service be set up. Community centres and city-owned buildings, like Kitchener City Hall and Kitchener Market, will be on the Wi-Fi target list as the city rolls out network upgrades for a new phone system.

“That is expected to happen over the summer and into the fall of this year,” Kitchener spokesperson Andrea Bailey said.

Meanwhile, Sam Quarrey has his skateboard and his Samsung android ready for his visits to Waterloo’s public square. The Wi-Fi is free and easy.

“They should have it here,” Quarrey said. “Lots of people rely on this place to hang out.”

And now they can stay connected while they hang out.

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