By Cole Parkinson
Since implementing free WiFi in the downtown area of Taber, town council has received plenty of good feedback, so much so they continued to discuss expanding the range.
During council’s regular meeting on June 25, councillors were informed of the public’s reaction to the project and what it would take to extend the range of the WiFi in the town.
Town of Taber staff released a survey asking three questions in regard to the downtown WiFi — do you think having free WiFi downtown enhances the overall experience of Taber’s downtown, do you think the Town of Taber should continue to provide free WiFi in the downtown core, and do you think the Town of Taber should expand the WiFi network to cover more of the downtown?
All three were answered with the vast majority voting yes.
When they decided to team with Mage Networks to provide the free WiFi, the town was offered a chance to extend the range for a discounted price, as long as it was before June 30.
“They offered us 50 per cent off the infrastructure to expand the network after the first few months. We’re coming up to the end of that window in July,” said Town of Taber CAO Cory Armfelt.
Extending the connection to Confederation Park is one of the main reasons for discussions of expansion, especially with Cornfest on the horizon.
In order to have the WiFi up and running, though, they would require some more equipment in order to extend the range into the park.
“We would have two access points on top of the Administration Building, one on top of the community centre and two in the park. That will cover the whole park including the ball diamond, tennis courts, skate park, spray park and parking lot behind the Administration Building. It will give people free Wifi for Cornfest and during the year,” said Alaa Abdel Khaliq, Town of Taber I.T. manager.
The overall cost for the five additional units was set for $3,950.63 and Abdel Khaliq also added the payment for the additional units would be a one-time fee.
Coun. Jack Brewin made a motion to approve the additional units.
With the extension of the WiFi to Confederation Park though, some on council wanted to provide the service to additional spots in the town.
The main focus was bringing free WiFi to the multiple senior centres in Taber.
“I was wondering if Councillor Brewin would accept a friendly amendment to his motion. Because of the close proximity to the senior complexes over there, I’m wondering if it wouldn’t be a good idea to put one of those batons in four locations. Those being Pioneer Place, Homestead Manor, Harmony Home and Clearview Lodge, thus giving the residents over there the opportunity for free Wifi,” said Coun. Mark Garner. “We are fooling ourselves if we don’t think our seniors are using the Internet, they do. I think it would be a nice little perk for them. These are the people that have gone before us and built the roads and done a lot of things for this community.”
Coun. Louie Tams questioned if the facilities didn’t already have WiFi available, which no one on staff or council could confirm.
Looking at adding more devices though would present a few different challenges.
“It (each WiFi baton) has to be within 50 metres from one of the access points,” added Abdel Khaliq when asked about the feasibility.
The Mage Network model is also meant for outside use only.
The WiFi batons wouldn’t be strong enough to penetrate most walls and would only be available to the seniors outside of the facilities, if council decided to pursue the issue.
“We proposed this to service Confederation Park with WiFi all year round. This is focused on being outside not inside, hence the challenge with penetrating through walls. If we acquire this service and we put them on these buildings, it would be for outside use only,” said Armfelt. “If seniors want to use this service, they can walk directly outside of their building or head to Confederation Park.”
Coun. Tams was in the mindset that the Mage Network project should be a different thing altogether from WiFi in homes and facilities.
“I think the homes should be looked at as a different issue than this,” he said.
Even with that in mind, some of the councillors were behind the idea.
“What you would have is, you’d have seniors sitting outside on their iPad’s talking to grandchildren or kids that are away so they aren’t necessarily tied into sitting in their rooms to do this. They can enjoy a nice sunny day, sitting outside and smoking a joint,” said Coun. Joe Strojwas.
The biggest issue stemming from purchasing four more units was where the money would come from.
One suggestion was taking it from the council discretionary fund, though they were advised to not go that route.
Another was to scale back the purchases from four to two additional units.
“I don’t see why we couldn’t put a couple outside Pioneer Place and Homestead Manor,” added Strojwas.
The cost of two more units was $1,425.
Coun. Garner made changes to his original amendment by adding only two additional units instead of the original four which was accepted by Brewin for his original motion.
The motion was approved by a 5-2 vote with Coun. Tams and Coun. Carly Firth opposing.