(Healey photo)

FALL RIVER: Getting Wi-Fi in Downtown Halifax created a lot of uncertainty and discussion in council chambers, and both local councillors were unsure what the outcome would be.

Steve Streatch, the councillor representing Waverley-Fall River-Musquodoboit Valley (District 1), initially appeared to be against the proposal for free Wi-Fi. But the discussion changed his thought process. He explained why that was.

“This project has been discussed for many years,” said Streatch on Feb. 17 at Good Day Kitchen & Cafe. “Public Wi-Fi is available in a lot of jurisidictions throughout North America. It is not only a bonus for local residents, regardless of where you live, Wi-Fi access will be helpful to many.

“It is also an opportunity for tourists coming off of the cruise ships; for local businesses, etc. to have the service at no charge.”

He said at the same time it does come with a price tag—that being $2.6 million from Bell Aliant. As it turned out, Streatch’s vote is what allowed the motion to approve the recommendation from staff 9-8.

“In the debate it became quite clear that there was concern money was being put into this initiative, while at the same time we have several ruarl HRM communities that have no access at all to broadband internet at their homes. I made it clear that my support was contingent on the CAO (Jacques Dube) and council acknowledging that we have several projects in the cue that are going to require HRM’s support.

“I felt comfortable enough that I could support the Downtown Halifax Wi-Fi knowing that their support was going to be there for our needs in the very near future.”

District 14 Upper/Middle Sackville-Beaver Bank-Lucasville representative Lisa Blackburn said in her first four months on the job, this debate was the first time she wasn’t sure how the vote would go when she rang in her vote.

“It was close,” she said. “I certainly heard from a lot of folks who were upset that I voted in favour of it. However, as I told people, I voted in favour of it because of the Library component of it.”

She explained the fact this is the first step in getting all of Halifax Regional Libraries free Wi-Fi is what sold her on it.

“It would allow the creation of a space where people can come use free Wi-Fi without the pressure of being a customer at a coffee shop or whatever business that has free Wi-Fi,” she said. “This gives the opportunity for the most vulnerable in our communities, seniors and low-income, to have access to free Wi-Fi and the internet.

“In this day and age, access to the internet is no longer a luxury, it’s a necessity.”

Blackburn wasn’t sure the proposal was something HRM could hold off any longer.

“My dad says this all the time “Kids we’re so far behind we think we’re first,’” she said, echoing the comment that appeared in Metro on Feb. 7.