Signal strength

Mike Fleury is always connected

The truly bizarre "Let's out-do Moncton" complex that has taken hold of our local politicians and media lately is, well, weird. It's like we're playing Kristen Wiig's uber-insecure Penelope character from Saturday Night Live. "I've hosted 400 concerts, so...and our Rolling Stones concert had Kanye West and a really, really big stage, so...and our city also has Sunday shopping now and we also have Bilsday shopping, which is a new day that we invented, so..."

At the very least, all of this New Brunswick anxiousness seems misguided. If we're going to have a complex about a city in New Brunswick, we should be focusing on Fredericton.

Yes, Fredericton: Noble daughter of the forest (note: actually the city motto). It's a city ahead of its time and certainly ahead of Halifax in at least one regard: free internet access for the masses.

Fredericton, in their wisdom, started offering free wi-fi internet access in some of the busiest parts of their city...in November 2003. Two thousand and three, people! While we were still reeling from Hurricane Juan, Fredericton was zipping all over the 'net, checking email, downloading porn, checking email again...you know, doing internet stuff. Meanwhile, we're still leeching off our neighbour's networks like common e-thieves (sorry, SteveNet).

Despite the fact that hip, young premier Rodney MacDonald campaigned on a promise to make Halifax a wi-fi wonderland, it's not certain that RodMac will ever follow through. A June 2007 progress report from the province outlines the many ways Nova Scotia is bringing high-speed internet to rural parts of the province, but mentions little—actually, nothing—regarding progress towards free municipal wi-fi in HRM.

The city's best hope might not reside with the provincial government, but rather with Chebucto Community Net. Halifax's seminal non-profit internet society is preparing to take a major step forward in their ongoing public wi-fi project.

Broadcasting from the roof of Fenwick Tower, Chebucto's free wi-fi service went online last year. The service is unrestricted for Chebucto members, but even non-Chebucto members are able to connect and browse local Halifax-based websites.

Now, the project is launching "nodes"—basically, a modified personal computer with a radio aerial attached. Through these nodes, the Chebucto signal originating at Fenwick would be distributed along the ground, giving it the potential to become a proper city-wide service. Andrew Wright, CCN's manager, says that after some initial technical glitches in late August, the nodes should be up and running very soon.

"We're working on it," he says. "It could be any day now."

Wright doesn't blame the province for sitting on the wi-fi sidelines—"It's actually not a stupid stance. Lots of projects start out with such great hopes and with this technology, so much can change"—but still, he says there is a gap in service that Chebucto wi-fi can potentially fill. On their website, Chebucto estimates that between 15 and 25 percent of people in Metro don't have any kind of personal internet access.

"The service that we'll be offering can grow to fit the niche," says Wright. "If someone wants to invest, there's not really a limit on how far we could go. We could provide access for even larger parts of a province."

Suck that, Fredericton! To keep tabs on the Chebucto wi-fi project, check wifi.chebucto.net.

The internet is also good for emailin’. mikef@thecoast.ca.

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