By Trevor Busch and Cole Parkinson
The Town of Taber has entered into partnership with a network provider that will see free WiFi broadcast in the downtown area as a pilot program in 2018.
Following in camera discussion at their Jan. 8 regular meeting, council voted unanimously to approve the MagiNet Network Project for the downtown core and directed CAO Cory Armfelt to sign the letter of agreement with additional funding for the project to come as needed from the Council Discretionary Fund.
No other information has been released by the Town of Taber with regard to any of the details involving the project, including the scope or potential costs.
The Town of Vauxhall was also considering implementing the pilot project, but recently rejected an offer to move forward based on some of the costs involved. According to information released to the Vauxhall Advance, the project comes from Mage Networks, which provides high speed broadband services. The company was seeking out rural towns and hamlets to pilot the program, which cuts out the need for cell towers by having small nodes attached to buildings and then placed low to the ground at 3-4 metre intervals. The nodes need sight lines between them as it allows for a wide range of coverage around terrain and other obstacles as the signal is available to service any area.
“It’s basically an offer with that company. They came to us looking to install that. I believe they’re going elsewhere in the province to promote this,” said Taber Mayor Andrew Prokop. “It’s basically designed for free WiFi availability in the downtown core. I believe it’s a 600 metre circle — so not huge — and they put up some kind of wand or device, I believe on top of a light standard so it’s up and above out of reach, to make a connection.”
During the in camera portion of a public meeting, members of the general public, including the media, are barred from witnessing or participating in the proceedings or discussion, although all subsequent resolutions must be made in open session.
Under guidelines laid down by Alberta Municipal Affairs, as an elected body, municipal councils should avoid conducting business in camera, including discussion of difficult topics such as budget deliberations, capital expenditures, tax recoveries, salary ranges or hiring of additional municipal staff, bylaw amendments, subdivision proposals, and “any contentious issues such as sensitive local issues.”
“The signal is received, and then wherever they put the central location — I believe it’s around the town office (Administration Building) there somewhere, near the civic centre (Taber Community Centre) so it’s directing into the downtown core, is sort of the key. They may be able to go as far as the police service area (Taber Police Station), but mainly the downtown core they’re trying to cover. It’s a good tourist attraction, an offer for free WiFi availability. It’s a free service for locals, but it’s kind of designed to attract the visitor crowd. It’s a feature they were offering, and it’s fairly minimal cost. They’re still working on the final figures, but it sounds like a pretty reasonable offer for their own promotional purposes,” said Prokop. “They’re still negotiating the monthly fee that it could cost us, that wasn’t established just yet.”
In the proposal made to the Town of Vauxhall building owners would be on the hook for supplying power to the units at a cost of 30 cents per month, according to the letter Mage Networks sent to town administration. While the program was promised to be free for Vauxhall, the intangibles related to the service in order to provide the free WiFi would have ended up costing the town a substantial fee.
“Mage Networks awarded us the free system and after checking prices, if we connect to the poles it will be $40 per site and a minimum of four sites or possibly five,” said Cris Burns, CAO for the Town of Vauxhall during the town’s regular meeting on Jan. 16. “It’s certainly not free.”
Another option that had been explored by the Town of Vauxhall was the possibility of connecting to local businesses in the downtown area but that too would bring an expense.
“If we go the other way with private businesses, they may allow us to connect to the power for free, but we definitely would hire a contractor to install those so we’re not held liable for damages,” added Burns. “The reason I’m bringing this back to council is I promised to you before that it was free and that was clear. I’m requesting that you either accept the expenses for the free system or reject it.”
Further council discussion in Vauxhall suggests installation costs would be even higher for the Town of Taber.
“It was quite interesting because as the emails were going around, we would be getting charged $40 per pole, per month, whereas Taber was looking at $90 per pole, per month,” said Vauxhall Mayor Margaret Plumtree.
To Prokop’s knowledge, no special codes or passwords will be required to access the service once it has been installed.
“I don’t think so, I think it’s just going to be open. As I understand it — I’m not the best electronics guy — it’s just there, and your device should just pick it up, it should be automatic. I don’t believe there will be any extraordinary codes or passwords, it should just be there available in those particular areas.”
While there is a possibility the service could be up and running as early as late spring 2018, Prokop expects the service to be installed by the end of summer at the latest.
“Like anything else, WiFi is kind of the new wave requirement for everybody with their electronic devices, computers, laptops, cellphones.”