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One island, one giant wireless dream

Non-Profit group of computer nerds is seeking city hall's help to make Montreal completely Wi-Fi friendly

MICHELLE LALONDE, The Gazette

Published: 8 hours ago

 

A small group of self-described computer nerds has been quietly beavering away to make wireless Internet access freely available across Montreal Island, and city hall seems poised to help them achieve that goal.

 

Calling themselves Île sans Fil (which translates roughly to "wireless island") and charging not a penny for their services, the group has so far equipped 150 "hotspots" in central Montreal neighbourhoods with wireless capability. The idea is that anyone who wanders into any of these hotspots with a laptop or handheld computer (a BlackBerry, for example) can get free Internet access as long as they have a Wi-Fi card.

 

Île sans Fil is what's known as a community wireless networking group. Its members are students and professionals of varying ages who are interested in Wi-Fi's potential "to empower individuals and to foster a sense of community," according to the group's website.

 

"At the core of this group are just some pretty nerdy people, early adopters of technology I guess we are called," said Daniel Drouet, president of Île sans Fil.

 

"We all had Wi-Fi cards a long time ago, but we saw that people running the cafés and places we wanted to go hadn't heard of Wi-Fi and had no idea how to install it. A lot of business owners seemed to want to offer it, but they were in the business of selling coffee, or whatever, and didn't know where to start."

 

So the group began approaching business owners and offering to set them up. Some of these business owners had already tried charging customers for Internet access, and learned the hard way that few would pay. But offering wireless access for free was a good way to attract customers, they wagered.

 

The group has set up Wi-Fi access at dozens of cafés and restaurants, some sports facilities, a couple of parks (Jarry Park, for example), a few doctors' waiting rooms and at least one laundromat.

 

The group is impatiently awaiting the city of Montreal's approval of their proposal to create about 250 more wireless hotspots, including many outdoor areas, such as city parks and public gathering spots like the Place des Arts.

 

City hall's interest in wireless movement has been growing, especially as it watches other other large North American cities - such as Philadelphia, New York, San Francisco and even Toronto - take steps toward establishing city-wide wireless networks.

 

In the fall of 2007, officials from the mayor's office contacted Drouet and asked the group to come up with a proposal on how the city could help them accelerate their efforts to expand the wireless network.

 

That proposal was submitted to city officials last fall. A standing committee of the agglomeration council also held a public meeting on the issue late last year and the committee subsequently recommended the project go ahead.

 

The partnership, as proposed by Île sans Fil, would see the city contributing $200,000 a year for five years to the group to support the installation of 150 more wireless service points in outdoor locations, and at least another 100 points in local businesses.

 

Drouet said he was told the contract would be approved at a spring executive committee meeting, but is still waiting. He has been informed there is no money left in the 2008 budget, but the project may be included in the 2009 budget.

 

Alan DeSousa, executive committee member responsible for economic development, said he is working to get the project approved as quickly as possible. As mayor of the St. Laurent borough, DeSousa has approved Île sans Fil's installation of Wi-Fi hotspots in several borough locations, such as the borough hall and Marcel Laurin Park.

 

"I think this is an exciting and important project," DeSousa said Friday.

 

"I will do what I can to see it is stickhandled as quickly as possible to make sure it sees the light of day either in 2008 or 2009, but the sooner the better."

 

For more information on Île sans Fil, go to http://www.ilesansfil.org

 

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