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Expanded Wi-Fi for Parksville?

Parksville council is considering a proposal from Shaw Communications to establish public wireless Internet zones in city facilities.

Jeff Bray, Shaw manager of government and regional affairs, told council about the Shaw Open metro area Wi-Fi networks available to their customers and sometimes to guests through businesses like coffee shops.

He said that since the Wi-Fi spectrum is unlicensed, unlike cellular phone service, they are trying to capitalize on the market by developing the most extensive network as a value-added service to help retain their Internet customers.

"We've really looked at that third place, where people congregate and want some kind of Internet access," he said, describing public space as distinct from home and office.

Currently Shaw customers can sign on to the network once and their portable devices automatically log on to the existing Wi-Fi zones at the various businesses, restaurants and entertainment facilities in the community that provide it for their customers.

Non-Shaw customers can often sign on as a guest when it is provided at a local business, but they have to sign on again for each new Wi-Fi access point. Bray said they already have over 20,000 access points in Western Canada and will eventually have 50,000.

The Parksville Downtown Business association looked into establishing a free public Wi-Fi zone in the downtown area, but the costs were prohibitive and they stepped back.

PDBA executive director Pamela Bottomley said they would be excited to take part in a project, but could not be the lead partner.

After Bray said Shaw opened all of their access points to free public use during the Calgary floods last summer for emergency communication, Mayor Chris Burger asked if that could be included in a local contract as part of the city's emergency planning.

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