Surfing in Saskatchewan goes wireless - Province aims to break the access barrier with free Internet availability
JOE FRIESEN - July 28, 2007
WINNIPEG -- Free wireless Internet service is now available in Saskatchewan's four biggest cities, making it the first province to launch a widespread, publicly funded network.
The initiative is part of the government's effort to position Saskatchewan as a high-tech learning centre that appeals to graduates and young professionals. They hope it will also help bridge the digital divide by making the Internet available to those unable to afford a connection at home.
"We're doing it to promote our cities as dynamic, progressive places to live and work and go to school," said Richard Murray, the policy and planning director in Saskatchewan's information technology office.
Anyone with a wireless adaptor is now able to log on to the network in the downtown areas of Regina, Saskatoon, Prince Albert and Moose Jaw, and that service will be extended to the University of Saskatchewan, the University of Regina and the four SIAST college campuses by September.
The service is not quite as fast as the high-speed cable or DSL connection available to most home subscribers, but it's many times faster than dial-up. Mr. Murray said it works well for browsing websites and checking e-mail, but downloading video isn't recommended. Since it's a publicly funded service, users will also be blocked from visiting sites associated with pornography or hate groups.
Frank Quennell, the minister responsible for information technology, said the idea came from a youth summit held in Saskatoon in February.
"Here we got a good idea from the young people of the province and we were able to respond to it phenomenally quickly," he said. "Automatic teller machines were brought in to Canada by Saskatchewan credit unions. There's no reason why a flexible, responsive government [can't lead in other areas of technology].
"In Saskatchewan, perhaps it's naiveté that helps us make this kind of progress, but it doesn't occur to people to say we couldn't do that here if they haven't done that in Toronto."
The project was completed in just five months, at a cost of $1.3 million, with technology provided by Cisco Systems.
David De Abreu, a Cisco vice-president, said similar networks exist in other cities but aren't as widespread. "We haven't seen a province that has got behind it and done it in four or five cities. This one is by far the largest wireless network at the provincial or state level in North America," he said.
Fredericton has a free public network. Toronto had one downtown, but the city started charging for service this year. Mr. Quennell said that won't happen in Saskatchewan.
"This is not a tease or a test or an introductory offer. This is what we plan to provide as a public amenity," he said.
Ganesh Vaidyanathan, head of accounting at the University of Saskatchewan's N. Murray Edwards School of Business, said these kinds of initiatives contribute to a positive atmosphere, even if they don't contribute much to creating jobs, attracting workers or keeping graduates in the province.
"We have to brand ourselves as being relevant. Our economy is really heating up and these are things that young people are beginning to expect," he said. "It's a question of how you project yourself to the outside world. This is happening right across the globe, and for Saskatchewan to be able to say we're plugged in too is important."