On Monday, I came to the Victoria Hills Community Centre and, while Vivian attended her karate class, I opened my computer to work on a freelance assignment. I was pleasantly surprised to have my laptop automatically pick up a new wifi signal called "KitchenerWiFi" and to receive a prompt to login.
Years ago, there was a lot of promise in free wifi. Cities across North America were going to connect up their downtown cores and offer cheap or free wireless services for their residents. It was to be a new age of the open Internet. It didn't turn out to be that way. Some cities, like Geneseo, Illinois, managed to blanket their downtowns with free wi-fi. Others found the projects too costly, or they got objections from other Internet service providers (fair enough), or ran into state legislation which specifically prevented municipalities from setting up their own wifi services (say, what?).
Waterloo and Toronto set up their own networks, but charged for them. And their speed left something to be desired. When I look for wireless, these days, I head to a coffee shop or a library.
Adding the Victoria Hills Community Centre to the list of free wi-fi access points may not be like blanketing downtown Kitchener with free wi-fi, but it is good for the community, in my opinion. I have been immensely grateful for the services Kitchener and the province of Ontario have offered to young parents. The Ontario Early Years Centres helped give Vivian and Nora a valuable social experience, and freed me up to spend an hour or two working on my writing. Kitchener's community centres have given my children an enriching educational experience while again giving me time to myself. For families poorer than me, they've benefitted with extra time, and the ability to use such resources as the local library or Internet to help them with job searches, finding ESL programs, and more.
As technology moves forward, one of the gaps we have to watch out for is the rising information gap between rich and poor. It's for this reason that libraries and community centres are valuable investments in the community. It gives poorer people time, help and hope. And free wi-fi will further give them information that they otherwise might not have access to. I consider this to be tax dollars well spent, and my hat goes off to the city of Kitchener for making this investment.