Public WiFi to stay connected

Highlights from the Nov. 12 city council meeting

Shaw Communications is looking to set up free wireless Internet services in public areas across Fort St. John.

At Tuesday's council meeting, the company made a pitch to install equipment in civic facilities like City Hall, the library and public parks that would extend its Go WiFi services to local customers and the broader public.

Thanks to online shopping, online education and social media, Internet usage has exploded in Canada and across the world, according to Jeff Bray, Shaw's government and regulatory affairs manager.

By 2015, it is expected that WiFi devices including cell phones and tablets will carry some 46 per cent of the world's Internet traffic, said Bray.

"Certainly investors, people looking to move to communities increasingly expect high speed Internet and wireless connections as a basic utility," Bray told councillors.

As part of the deal, Shaw would lease space from the city for its equipment and cover all installation and maintenance costs, said Bray. The deal would be non-exclusive, meaning other companies could do the same.

Shaw has about 20,000 Go WiFi locations in restaurants, malls, arenas and movie theatres in western Canada, said Bray.

Though the service is primarily for its existing customers, Shaw hopes extending free use to the public in Fort St. John will act as a marketing tool to bring new clients into its fold.

Shaw has similar arrangements in 30 other cities large and small, from Vancouver, Edmonton, and Winnipeg to Quesnel and Williams Lake in B.C., said Bray. Meanwhile, Dawson Creek city councillors last week voted in favour of moving forward with Shaw's proposal.

Mayor Lori Ackerman asked if the city could prohibit access to certain websites or filter out inappropriate material with the service. While Bray acknowledged Shaw can filter out specific content, it would have difficulty as a service provider telling people what they could or couldn't look at on the Internet, he said.

Coun. Trevor Bolin expressed concern over Shaw's response time to network outages in public facilities.

Bray said Shaw would respond "as fast as humanely" to network outages.

Ackerman said she expects council to hear more from city staff about the proposal.

Base budget reductions

Fort St. John is keeping its word in reducing the amount of funding it hands out to local non-profit organizations.

At Tuesday's council meeting, councillors approved about $705,000 in base budget grant allocations for eight groups, down from $760,000 last year.

The North Peace Cultural Centre will see its annual funding drop from $250,000 to $216,000, and the North Peace Justice Society will see its funding drop from $25,000 to $24,240.

The library will see the same amount of funding as it did last year - $380,000 - however, the city declined an additional $20,000 the library was seeking for technology upgrades.

The North Peace SPCA will also see the same funding as it did last year, $15,000, for its spay and neuter program, as will Tourism Fort St. John with $36,000 in approved funding, and the Women's Resource Society with $7,475 for its bus pass program.

The North Peace Historical Society will received $10,000 in funding, also the same as last year, though council declined a $2,000 increase for the society to hire an extra staff member to coordinate educational programming. The Fort St. John Community Arts Council will also see $15,000, the same as it did last year.

The groups had applied for a collective $775,475 in funding.

In 2011, council voted to cap grants at 20 per cent of an organization's yearly revenue to curb the number of grants being used for basic operating expenses. The decreases will be phased in over the next five years.

City tinkers with capital plan

Councillors approved a few minor changes to its 2014 capital plan at Tuesday's committee of the whole meeting.

Councillors approved $45,000 in new spending to upgrade the city's high level water pump station, and another $140,000 to upgrade the city's analog security cameras at its water and sewer facilities to a digital system.

Councillors also voted to defer $80,000 in spending to update fencing around the city's sewer lagoons to 2015 and 2016.

The city will spend $31.3 million on capital works in 2014, nearly $22 million of which will be directed to roads and related infrastructure.

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