Councillors agree to shift Cowrie WiFi to ‘hot spots’

Sechelt council’s committee of the whole is recommending the district dismantle its free downtown WiFi network and reuse the hardware to create “hot spots” at district facilities.

The free network was established in 2014 by the district’s now-disbanded economic development company Sechelt Innovations Limited, with an initial outlay of $10,000.

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“The design had some engineering deficiencies; as a result, it has provided inconsistent downtown wireless internet service,” according to a staff report. “The network has averaged 500 to 800 unique users a day, when functioning properly, peaking at over 1,200 users during events. The inconsistency of the services has been frustrating for some users of the system.”

The Sechelt Downtown Business Association (SDBA) agreed to take over the system in 2017 on the condition those deficiencies were addressed.

In a presentation to the June 26 committee of the whole meeting, Beverly Ehlbeck, the district’s IT manager, said although the SDBA sees free WiFi along the Cowrie Street corridor as a benefit, the business group feels it doesn’t have the resources to go forward with taking it on.

Ehlbeck also told councillors the technological issues have been largely worked out. “Almost everything’s up as of today and in the last week we’ve had five gigabytes of data usage a day – the highest usage we’ve had in the last couple of years,” she said.

Ehlbeck’s report put the cost of keeping the downtown WiFi system at about $7,000 per year, while repurposing the hardware would cost the district about $750 per year.

Mayor Darnelda Siegers said she’s been talking with Telus to see if they’d be interested in installing and running a WiFi network to replace the district-owned one and she favours using the district-owned gear to create hot spots at its facilities.

“It’s an assumption now when people come to these facilities that they will have WiFi access, so I’d be more inclined to go that way rather than down [Cowrie] Street. A lot of the businesses are also providing free WiFi, whereas when this came out they weren’t doing that,” Siegers said.

Coun. Alton Toth, who was involved with the SDBA when it first looked at taking on the WiFi system, said he also favours the hot spot idea. “When the project started there was no public WiFi … so the cutting edge aspect of offering it is not really there anymore, whereas I think we can put it to good use [at district facilities].”

Ehlbeck suggested hot spots could be set up fairly easily at Municipal Hall, Rockwood Centre, Seaside Centre and Mission Point Park where the district already has Internet connections.

Expanding the hot spots to places like Hackett Park would require the district to pay to have Internet service brought in.

The committee voted to recommend the Cowrie Street WiFi network be dismantled and repurposed to create hot spots after the Labour Day weekend and that the downtown WiFi remain active until then, as long as it continues to be stable.

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