Wednesday, May 29, 2024

2021-May-25 Aurora Council Meeting – Town Wide Free Wi-Fi Access (Smart City)

Town Wide Free Wi-Fi Access Motion (Aurora, Ontario)

Aurora Council Meeting May 25th, 2021 – Motion Town Wide Free Wi-Fi Access Discussion Transcription


9.4 Mayor Mrakas; Re: Town Wide Wi-Fi Access read as follow:

Whereas the pandemic has had a direct impact on virtually every aspect of our lives – where we work, how our children receive their education, how we access medical care; and

Whereas not all families/residents in our Town can afford home internet access or have reliable internet access, negatively impacting their ability to access important services – including emergency services and health care; and

Whereas the Association of Municipalities Ontario (AMO) has stated that expanding reliable, high-speed, and affordable broadband and cellular connectivity across Ontario is a necessity, not a luxury; and

Whereas Town wide wi-fi access would allow for the Town of Aurora to enhance our information output and capabilities as we continue to move towards becoming a ‘Smart Town’; and

Whereas Town wide wi-fi access would enable all residents to access information, supports, schooling and the ability to stay connected with friends and family;

Now Therefore Be It Hereby Resolved that Council direct staff to investigate existing models of municipally implemented wi-fi services to develop a proposed model for Aurora and report back to Council; and

Be It Further Resolved That staff investigate public-private partnership models to consider for the potential implementation of such a wi-fi service for the Town.

Link Video Discussion (approximate total time of 48 minutes):

Document Source (file type PDF):

Council Discussion

Cllr Kim (Deputy Mayor) in the Chair

Mayor Mrakas at 1:39:07

You know I think that with the pandemic, you know, this has brought this to light. I think we’ve seen a lot of residents where they don’t have access to Internet and we’re seeing more and more that the Internet broadband in general shouldn’t be a luxury, should be a necessity and I think that it’s incumbent on us as a council to provide the services that our residents need. And to me, this is a necessity. This is a service that our residents need and I think, especially moving forward, it’s something that we need to provide. And to me the ultimate goal would be to provide a town-wide Wi-Fi access, but I think that we can start the steps. And that’s why the motion speaks to the fact that to have staff look at it and investigate other areas, I mean we know Stratford already does it and there are other municipalities that that do pockets within their municipalities. And so I want staff to investigate those more thoroughly and come back to us with what would work for our town to start off with, and how we can forward in this direction to provide this service for our residents. And I think that ultimately, it might start off where it’s, where it’s right now. We do our town facilitates. We all know that our Town Hall and our other facilities have Wi-Fi within them and people can access that Wi-Fi.

Well, maybe we extend it to all our properties. So when I mean our properties, I mean, our outdoor properties as well. So our town parks would be able to be able to access Wi-Fi. And then maybe that’s the first step to than towards that town-wide Wi-Fi access. I mean far too many times I’ve heard of a lot of stories, especially during this pandemic with children that are, you know, now doing online learning where they’re having to get into their parents car or walking over to the nearest coffee shop and sitting outside with their computer so they can connect to Wi-Fi and so they can do get their work done. And to me, that’s unacceptable, I think, we as a town our responsibility is to make sure that everyone has access to, equal access and with more and more things being online from filling out medical forms to documents to you know, doing your bank statements, there’s more and more that has to be done online and to me providing basic Wi-Fi service to our residence is a necessity. And so I’m looking forward to seeing what staff will come back with us and how we can move forward in a possible public, private partnership, and possibly going out, going out to an RFP (Request for Proposal) once we get that report back. So I’ll leave it at that.

Cllr Gaertner at 1:42:04

Mr. Mayor, we did have a good talk about this. When the investigation is being done, could we look into the security issue? Love the idea of having it available for, you know, if we get into a situation like we do now with school learning but I don’t know about banking sector. I’d like to know what the security implications are and whether we would have any liability. Thanks.

Cllr Gilliland at 1:42:59

Through you Mayor Mrakas what kind of research did you do with the broadband infrastructure expansion act that the province is working on right now? I know that’s something that they have been pushing forward and investing a lot of money to bring this kind of Wi-Fi to towns, especially for the general population, and you know school and medical and such.

What kind of conversations or research did you have in that regard?

Mayor Mrakas responds at 1:43:53

I’ve investigated through Google and what they’re looking at doing. And I think that any broadband that they provide to any municipalities throughout the province is going to still require people to pay. And when we’re talking about affordability, what we’re talking about people that can’t afford. That is why this is a subsidized Wi-Fi service for all residents to be able to access.  Broadband when you’re being charged for it will be great they’ll get it down to a lower price there will still be some certain segments of our population that would not be able to afford it even at a reduced prices. So therefore that’s why I believe it is incumbent upon us to provide Wi-Fi access to all our residents because it is a necessity.

Cllr Gilliland at 1:44:55

Thank you. I guess just a follow up. So what I’m hearing is you’re saying the province’s plan is really to subsidize. I thought perhaps they were trying to bring broadband cellular to under served communities to allow them to utilize and that didn’t have the funds associated. So I just don’t want to be doing double duty if the province is already moving forward and investing in something. I think there was an announcement in April, or March of this year about this legislation. Maybe you know, perhaps there’s some initiatives and funding from that but we can kind of I guess piggyback on, just like we did with the previous action plan that we did with the IT upgrades. So I just, I’m just trying to understand what we’re trying to get out of that now, if we’re going to have the province already producing some of that, should we, not wait and see what that plan brings forward for our town as opposed to kind of I guess putting the cart before the horse and not really understanding what’s available to us as a municipality top down. And if you can just clarify what you mean by subsidize and free. Is that what you’re saying that the province is a subsidy; it’s not a free Wi-Fi, is that what you are saying?

Mayor Mrakas responds at 1:46:24

No, I said that we would be providing subsidized. If anyone reads the report and what the legislation and what the province is trying to achieve, they’re mostly trying to achieve broadband into more rural communities that don’t have access to it. The more urban areas have access to it but by providing better access right across the board it will lower the prices hopefully they’re not going to subsidizing it. If there are any grant opportunities, absolutely we should afford ourselves every opportunity to access any grant funding that’s provided whether it’s the province or the federal government. I’ve already spoken with our MP in discussions about this and if we’re going to be moving forward with this what funding could be possibly made available to us.

… it’s actually subsidized Wi-Fi service to our residents …

Mayor Tom Mrakas

If we as a town move forward to the future, this is something that would put us far, far ahead as far as moving towards being kind of becoming a smart town. And it’s something that would allow us. We already have broadband. So it promises initiatives of getting more and more access for broadband is more towards those rural economies. I mentioned, my colleague, Mayor Thompson in Caledon speaks many times about this. It’s a big issue in Caledon because they’re very rural areas that have don’t have too much access to broadband. So that’s a totally different issue from what the province is trying to achieve, what I’m asking here today is for us to provide Wi-Fi free Wi-Fi service; so when I say free and everyone knows I hate the word free, so it’s actually subsidized Wi-Fi service to our residents and it’s a service that’s a necessity as AMO has identified.

Cllr Gilliland at 1:48:06

Thank you. I got what you are saying. I mean, I look at the smart cities, say for example, in Mississauga, and from what I understand you know are definitely a lot of different components. So they have their town assets and capital areas and parks which we currently have now. So Town Park and our buildings and then they also have their dog waste program which is part of the smart city for some reason as well. And then they have like their public server network. So I think that is kind of where you’re going, the public server service network and if what you’re looking is for us as a town, or are you saying you want us the taxpayers to be subsidizing the Wi-Fi for the people in our town, who can’t afford Wi-Fi? Is that, where we’re going with this, or we looking for partner with other levels of government to help subsidize that? I’m just curious.

Mayor Mrakas responds at 1:49:04

I think that this is about helping those that need help within our community; providing a service level that our residents would expect us to provide them.

Cllr Gillilland

I’m just trying to get clarity as to like, where that would come from. You said you spoke to one of our MPs. I’m not so sure who maybe you want to share that, but what in specific you said, they had some good conversations. Would you be able to kind of share a little bit about that? Maybe there’s some other component to this at different levels of government that maybe I don’t know about. Just to understand what they’re doing in their initiative at a federal level that would kind of help us on the municipal level.

Mayor Mrakas responds at 1:49:54

Councillor it would have been great to have this conversation last week in our one-on-one and I would have been able to explain a lot of this for you.

Conversations with MP Tony Van Bynen were great. He’s looking into it, as I mentioned and he’ll come back to me and report and let me know if there are any available funding opportunities for the town to move forward in this direction. We had great conversations with Minister Mulroney through the GTA small Mayor’s and those conversations revolved around, you know most of it was transportation but some of it was for infrastructure through broadband. We also had conversations with the Prime Minister about it as well.

Being smart town is more than just providing some certain services. It’s about providing electronic methods, having sensors to collect data, insights that we can gain through data and manage assets.

Mayor Tom Mrakas

And so we’re always looking for opportunities, how do we move forward in a progressive way and create our town the most livable, workable a place to live in all of Ontario and that’s what this would put us on a map as far as moving forward. Being smart town is more than just providing some certain services. It’s about providing electronic methods, having sensors to collect data, insights that we can gain through data and manage assets. We can look at all those opportunities through developing smart pavement. Residents will be able to know what parking spots are available, when they’re available, when they’re taken up – all sorts of things. On the regional level, we can look at how we address traffic stop lights and everything throughout our town. And when they move forward, green, yellow, red, and all these things can be achieved as we move forward to becoming closer to a smart town and we can do that for by providing Wi-Fi services right across the town. And I think that’s where we need to go. And I think by having staff investigate that to coming up with the conclusions to put in front of us for us to make a decisions and how we can move forward to better provide services for our residents. I think this is something that our residents would applaud and actually ask for.

Cllr Gilliland at 1:52:03

I’m just trying to understand what stage we’re in. I just know that there’s been some conversations, like I was saying in March and as early as April, has there been any conversations with the Region of York in regards to the icon funding that’s been released or in talks.

Mayor Mrakas responds

I have to get back to you. I don’t sit on the York Net so I would like to have conversations with my colleagues in York Net and get some more information for you and I can get back to you on that.

Cllr Humfryes at 1:52:42

First of all, I’m really excited about this idea and I understand the concept. Certainly we have broadband and fiber optics throughout the town. Having this is so exciting. Right now I believe we’ve got Wi-Fi, you know, bring your own device in all our buildings, bridge for buildings have their own set of devices, I guess Wi-Fi services, you know the library, the Cultural Center, other areas. To provide Wi-Fi for everyone is something incredibly special and spectacular, and the analytics that we can gain from this would be unbelievable. Artificial intelligence that can help us get where we need to go and predict what our community needs is very important. So, I think what we need to do is take a look at this. Looking forward to the information we get back. But one of the biggest things are, if you know that you’re, even myself a I’m subscriber, but I’m driving, or I […] I’m walking or going to a building I’ll automatically hook up to Wi-Fi, it saves on my cellular plan.

To provide Wi-Fi for everyone is something incredibly special and spectacular, and the analytics that we can gain from this would be unbelievable. Artificial intelligence that can help us get where we need to go and predict what our community needs is very important.

Cllr Sandra Humfryes

So it’s I think everyone could benefit, those that cannot afford it, those that can afford a good plan, and those they’re fine. But I think all of us are trying to save a little bit on what we’ve got currently in terms of our plans and its attempt to provide this type of service level. You know, for Aurora it’s something that you know going to be one of those leading edge individuals at towns that can really share some incredible functionality. And truly that more than ever I heard of the children that don’t have Wi-Fi available, and I have heard that some are really struggling, and it’s not heard of much, because those are things that are often left very quiet.

So to be able to have anyone be able to access information whenever they need is something pretty spectacular. And today’s, we know that this is the COVID has proved to us that communication is powerful and it’s all we’ve got. I mean, not all we’ve got but something that can help us stay in tune, stay connected and have what we need when we are not allowed to physically be in certain places due to safety concerns.

So, I’m really excited about this initiative and it sounds like Mr. Mayor, you’ve done your homework. You’ve got lots of extra information that I wasn’t even thinking about it. After the question I heard they are fantastic. And I really believe that I just can’t wait to move this forward and I’m looking forward to being something we’ll see soon. Just a quick question, turnaround times in terms of coming back to council Mr. Mayor, when do you ask for a report back?

Mayor Mrakas responds at 1:55:43

I didn’t put a timeline on it. I want to make sure that staff takes as much time as they need necessary to make sure that what comes back to us is something that we will be able to move forward with. So that way it’s not something we’re rushing this. This a big item that I think we need to take some time to make sure that it’s done right and if we do it we do it right.

Cllr Humfryes at 1:56:22

One last question through you Mr. Chair, just a general comment with IT Strat plan; having this in the mix is something that I really hope we can utilize and evolve what we’re doing today for all are areas we provide Wi-Fi for, that this will just be an add-on and I think we’re an opportunity to really make this happen. And it won’t be as challenging as I think most of us would believe. There are communications devices that can make this happen relatively quickly and you can get something pretty spectacular done for the needs of the community. So thank you so much Mr. Mayor, looking forward to the progress and updates. This is very exciting. Thank you.

Cllr Thompson at 1:57:23

Certainly, I mean motion before us just asked for a report back to provide us with additional information as well as existing models, there are certainly numerous municipalities in the United States as well as some in Canada that provide this service. I even believe I read recently that the city of Toronto is looking at building their own municipal network. If I remember correctly, they talked about it in the sense that you know there it’s an issue in Toronto that you know some low-income families they can’t afford necessarily Internet and so sometimes they go without other essentials so they can have Internet. And so that was one of the reasons why the city of Toronto wanted to pursue this and put it out there so that everybody could have affordable Internet. It may not be, you know, a lightning-fast speeds but at least they would have access. I think, last year has shown us, the Wi-Fi access is an essential service. More and more people are getting their news from the Wi-Fi, from the internet then television and the numbers continue climb that way. More and more people, they work from home or at least they need that access to be able to do that. And so I think it’s worthwhile to pursue and get the information. You know personally I would be more interested in investigating the public-private partnerships. There are instances where Rogers and Bell and other telecommunication providers have worked with regions and municipalities and try address it granted just like the province is trying to do. Typically is more geared towards under serviced areas that don’t have the infrastructure to provide anything. I know there are remote communities and northern communities, where, you know, they have a real struggle to get Wi-Fi and certain speeds and levels that we have here, we take for granted and we are accustomed to. And so I look forward to the report. I look forward to the information in regards to the existing models are out there that we can look at and consider and also specifically around the public-private partnerships because I do think that it’s an essential service and there those that need it, and they can’t necessarily afford it or have access to it and so we should be pursuing and the looking at this. I support the motion.

Cllr Gallo at 1:59:57

I am also prepared to support this at this time, but there are a lot of questions that I would need to have answered before I would support it as a program for all of us. And some of them revolve around, you know, I want to see facts and statistics and because if we’re trying to solve a problem, I want to make sure I’m solving a problem that exists and to what degree. I’m not debating whether exists or to a degree it exists in terms of people not being able to afford Wi-Fi. And if this is the best solution in order to solve that that problem there’s no question that in today’s age it’s a necessity, but I need to understand the issue and whether or not this is the best way to solve that issue.

I want to see facts and statistics and because if we’re trying to solve a problem, I want to make sure I’m solving a problem that exists and to what degree.

Cllr John Gallo

Also it raises the question of what does a typical resident do if this is implemented with their own home Wi-Fi. You know, do we do this, which means everybody cancels their Wi-Fi in home with me logs on to the town. You know, I don’t think we have answer to that, but in looking forward to seeing what comes out of it and what other municipalities are doing but there’s a lot of questions that need to be answered before we can even more forward and I’m sure we’ll get those answers and have a long and fruitful debate.

Cllr Kim at 2:01:41

You know I’d be in support of the motion. I’d be interested to know what options are available out there in terms of a price structure and in turn depending on the type of partnership and you know the pricing can be vast but you know those options when will be made known to us after the investigation.

… to service low income, or under served populations of our core municipality or in other municipalities, but it’s not, but that’s just not the only benefit of Wi-Fi.

Cllr Harold Kim

So I’m looking forward to that. I think whenever we talk about Wi-Fi, you know, it’s the first thing that comes to mind are to service low income, or under served populations of our core municipality or in other municipalities, but it’s not, but that’s just not the only benefit of Wi-Fi. But certainly you know in this day and age of this pandemic where people use and need Internet, not only for education, but also for medical reasons to talk to one’s family doctor. So, the Internet has become you know very sensitive in terms of you know much needed you know integral service. I think one of the huge benefits of being one of the smart communities because you know smart cities smart municipalities is where every municipality is going. The benefit to us as a corporation would be you’re looking at smart services and that would include fleets or fleet services, asset management.

And not only that I mean there’s huge revenue generating opportunities and data collection opportunities.

Cllr Harold Kim

You’re looking at splash screens that promote local businesses; we talked about trying to gain feedback and getting more residents engaged certainly. Certainly with Wi-Fi services that that really helps us in that public engagement area. And not only that I mean there’s huge revenue generating opportunities and data collection opportunities. When you think about splash screen we can have various businesses advertising on those splash screens and they’ll pay revenue to the town.

You’re looking at exclusive rights to locations where Wi-Fi hotspots are located and those can be sold. Wi-Fi zoning analytics, you have data on user traffic. We’re talking about how many people use our public library, our cultural center, who attends our dances in the park. Those are aggregate data and valuable information that we can collect when we have public Wi-Fi. And in terms of the cost I mean it all depends on type of spectrum and the broadband width. Certainly if we have public Wi-Fi it doesn’t mean that someone’s going to streaming Netflix using public Wi-Fi. It’s normally from my research, it’s the only allow enough to surf the Internet, your homework, email. You can’t, you know, stream movies and do binge watching all weekend using public Wi-Fi but certainly that’s an opportunity as well. But you know there are a lot of municipalities in the Eastern townships of Ontario that successfully migrated to this or in transition to this. They seem to have had some success. So I think there’s a lot of,

When people see us as a progressive municipality there’s retention of young people to live and work here and there’s also an attraction that people see Aurora as a progressive place to live because we have all this Internet.

Cllr Harold Kim

I think it’s not just a two-dimensional opportunity but there’s it’s a 3D opportunity and those have to look at it in all the aspects and you in terms of our branding, we always talked in the past about the branding of Aurora. When people see us as a progressive municipality there’s retention of young people to live and work here and there’s also an attraction that people see Aurora as a progressive place to live because we have all this Internet and we’re progressive thinking so for all these reasons you know I will be in support of it and I will look forward to what staff will come back with.

Cllr Gilliland at 2:06:19

Just a quick comment, doing a little more reading with the public sector networks and Wi-Fi and from what I’m reading in other municipalities it seems that there are some designated labs per say that would be something accessible for people to participate in free public Wi-Fi. I’m assuming that’s probably something we would investigate. But as far as, I know Cllr Kim you just kind of touched on it you know being you know forward thinking with, you know whether you’re streaming or whether you know it’s for traffic or what not. I mean, are we actually planning on trying to expand this. Maybe Mayor Mrakas you could maybe chime in here when we are talking about you know the public sector network of sorts expanding Wi-Fi to touch on you know traffic and cameras and more of a smart city on that side as well or this is something completely separate.

Mayor Mrakas responds at 2:07:24

I think there’s some component we could look at partnering with the York Region and through York Net and see what we can do. I don’t foresee us moving to cameras, that’s something that would probably evolve through either a regional level or from a provincial level; but I think there’s opportunity for us to partner with the region and you know when we have the infrastructure in place we could look at doing things very easily and moving forward in that direction.

Cllr Gillilland

I’m just asking these questions because this is all new and I see some towns are doing at different levels and it seems to me like I’m just learning about this; seems to me that it’s kind of almost like the Leads program, there’s all these boxes you can check to say that you’re in the Leads program so there’s 20 things and you check five and you can say you’ve kind of qualified for the Lead. So it’s kind of where we choose to be that smart city where it would kind of work with Aurora and that’s kind of where I think that we’re trying to figure out.

So I mean I’m good with trying to investigate what models would be, I don’t know what that would look like but you know when it comes to; I think Cllr Gaertner had kind of touched on this with security and obviously you know public open networks and whether or not there’s a risk there. And you know that could be very concerning to some people in the public. So that would be something hopefully, you know, this passes tonight that staff when they are reporting back that is something to take seriously.

As you know in Toronto Google did back out of their plan to move forward smart city just kind of based on some of that innuendo. But as far as like investigating I’m all for that but I’m really trying to self-educate on where we’re coming and going since this is very new and there is a lot funding that is coming down from other levels of government and trying to mitigate the affordability; it’s just figuring out where that comes and if we need to do some of our own homework to kind of figure out what we can do. That’s fine. I look forward to the report to kind of see what those details are just like Cllr Gallo had suggested and go from there.

Interesting Read

Toronto swaps Google-backed, not-so-smart city plans for people-centred vision

The call for new development proposals comes nearly a year after the city and Google-affiliated Sidewalk Labs parted ways – a stinging defeat for a project championed by the Canadian prime minister, Justin Trudeau, and Eric Schmidt of Google, who had promised a community built “from the internet up”. Before the partnership was called off, the project had come under sharp criticism, amid questions over privacy and fears of “surveillance capitalism”. “The initial plans were definitely scary for a lot of people … it felt like [Quayside] was going to become a technology-based gated community, where everything was monitored behaviour, personal data is collected by thousands of cameras,” said Jasmine Mohamed, a Toronto resident completing her graduate degree in urban planning. “I’m glad that’s no longer a priority for the new vision.”Read more …

Mayor Mrakas at 2:09:04 closing remarks

And I think it’s been a great conversation around the table and I think that is quite evident there are many questions and I think that’s why the motion I put forward is the motion the way it’s written is to get those answers for everyone around this table so we can have a full understanding as we move forward. But ultimately as I mentioned this has been a long time conversation at AMO and FCM. The fact that it broadband Internet Wi-Fi is not a luxury anymore it is a necessity and it’s something that that we need to look at if we can provide it.

Obviously it needs to be cost effective; it needs to make sense from a financial standpoint. And we need to be able to provide a service. That’s I mean ultimately when we talk about what we do is we what we do around here what we do as a town is we provide services to our residents. This is another service and as it’s become more apparent that it’s a need then it’s that it becomes more apparent that it’s a service that we need to take a hard look at how can we provide this service to our residents so all our residents have access. And as Cllr Kim mentioned you know I think that what we’ll come to learn is this is not about providing access for people to stream shows, watch movies, download, you know movies or shows or any of that or music that’s not what this would be for. This is this is to provide access for people to read news, submit forms online and just basic web browsing and messenger apps so they can keep connected.

Ultimately the more engaged the more informed our public is and our residents are the more active and the more knowledgeable they are and the better off we are as a community and that is our ultimate goal to make sure that our community is the best community and so I think that this is what we’ll achieve by moving forward in this direction. And so I’m looking forward to getting all these answers that all of you provide questions, answers to all the questions you guys have provided today and how staff come back to us with answering those questions and we can move forward in a positive direction. So I’m looking forward to that. Thank you for the conversation and as always if any of you have any questions that you want to ask me at any point or if any residents want to feel free to call me I give out my number anytime. I’ll even say it right here XXX-XXX-XXXX give me a call anytime and I’m glad to go through this with you. Thank you.

General Information

About AMO (Association of Municipalities Ontario): “AMO works to make municipal governments stronger and more effective. Through AMO, Ontario’s 444 municipalities work together to achieve shared goals and meet common challenges. Through our policy development, cost-saving programs, conferences and training opportunities, AMO provides municipal officials with tools to succeed, and programs to help maximize taxpayer dollars.

About FCM (Federation of Canadian Municipalities): “FCM has been the national voice of municipal government since 1901. Our members include more than 2,000 municipalities of all sizes, from Canada’s cities and rural communities, to northern communities and 20 provincial and territorial municipal associations. Together, they represent more than 90 percent of all Canadians from coast to coast to coast. Municipal leaders from across Canada assemble each year to set FCM policy on key issues.

Recorded Vote

Cllr Kim (YES), Cllr Gilliland (YES), Cllr Humfryes (YES), Cllr Gallo (YES), Cllr Gaertner (YES), Cllr Thompson (YES), Mayor Mrakas (YES).

Interesting Read

How Chattanooga Connected Low-Income Students to Free Wi-Fi

When the pandemic hit, public and private sector leaders in this Tennessee city came together to give economically challenged families free high-speed internet access.Read More …

Anna Lozyk Romeo
Aurora, Ontario



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