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City to explore free public Wi-Fi through pilot project

For immediate release: Wed, 2022-02-02 16:22

Many people in our community do not have the same opportunities to access online services. To address growing barriers and risks for those residents, the City of Saskatoon is launching a pilot project to provide free public Wi-Fi internet service to residents in a segment of Saskatoon’s core neighborhood area. The project status is outlined in a report for the Standing Policy Committee on Environment, Utilities and Corporate Services on Monday, February 7.

“This is an exciting project that can have immediate quality of life impacts for residents in the area,” says Celene Anger, Chief Officer of Strategy and Transformation. “Through the COVID pandemic, the City, other orders of government and community organizations, have moved services online. While this has improved service offerings for many, it has created a service gap for many people in Saskatoon.”

Commonly referred to as the ‘digital divide,’ the pilot project aims to help people currently without or with limited Internet access gain better access to online services and participate in today’s growing digital society. In December 2016, the federal government declared Internet access a basic right of all Canadian citizens. Cities across Canada are moving forward with initiatives to address this situation.

The pilot project explores a cost-effective City-delivered solution for approximately 1500 residents to access the Internet from or near their homes and in public areas at no cost. This project will be launched in an area of Saskatoon with a high percentage of residents as measured across five population groups:

  • youth
  • seniors
  • immigrants
  • Indigenous peoples
  • low-income

With access to the Internet, residents will be able to access key tools like telehealth and learning applications as well as important information about housing, food, pandemic restrictions, and government services.

Moving ahead with project implementation, the City will issue a Request for Proposal (RFP) next week for a vendor to supply products to deliver wireless internet access points throughout the proposed area. The City will deliver high speed internet via fibre to the Saskatoon Fire Development Centre, a City-owned building located at 116 Avenue W South to serve as the connection point (hub) for these Wi-Fi devices. As the primary hub, a wireless signal will then be broadcast to the pilot area through the solution identified through the vendor’s RFP submission. The City is intending to install the wireless internet access points on City-owned streetlamps and power poles in the designated area.

“Through the RFP, we’re looking for a vendor to partner with us to determine the best tools to reach our goals of a strong Wi-Fi signal to the door of, and hopefully inside, the homes of residents in the pilot area,” says Anger. “We’re hoping to identify opportunities, problem-solve the challenges and evaluate the success of providing public Wi-Fi through this project.”

The pilot project valued at $250,000 is expected to become operational late summer/fall 2022 and run for one year. Financial support was made possible through City Council’s approval of a reallocation of funds as a result of Municipal Economic Enhancement Program (MEEP) 2020 funding. The project will be evaluated throughout the pilot phase, and the results of the evaluation will be used to guide City Wi-Fi strategies and any plans for future continuation or expansion of the program.