Blanket WiFi access in Toronto

This week, Toronto Hydro Telecom announced plans to create a high-speed wireless zone beginning in the downtown core. Touted as being a means of bringing “Toronto on to the world stage”, the service will be free for the first six months. A few colleagues have suggested that this development may be a significant step toward unleashing ehealth in the Toronto area.

While providing access to the Internet via a highspeed wireless network is a significant advancement, much work still needs to be done:

1. Secure Wireless Access
In order to meet the privacy regulations, we need to provide a secure means of transmitting data. As far as I know, public access points to the Internet is not “secured” – meaning that you “use at your own risk”. With all of the hype and paranoia surrounding confidentiality and privacy, don’t we need to find some sort of means of providing secure transmission? I’d say that this is the first step that needs to be addressed. Without it, no institution or provider is likely to use this new network.

2. Development of Systems
Much like the early days of the Internet when there was too little content, applications need to be developed to give patients and providers a reason to use and “connect” via the system. Sure we can access the web, but what will we use it for? As with the Internet in general, content rules.

3. Bridging the Socio-economic Divide
Even though much work needs to be done, we still need to make low-cost access available to all – it’s an issue that does not get much press. I’m going to assume that once the six-month trial period is over, access will cost anywhere between $25-$50 a month. Sure, that doesn’t seem like much, but for those people who have limited financial means, that’s $300-$600 a year that could be spent on food or clothing. Is the Internet worth more than food, clothing, or housing? If we truly want to get *everyone* to use this new infrastructure, even the most disadvantaged must have access too. Should this service be offered freely? If Philidelphia is debating the issue of providing the service for free (or for a significantly lowered cost) – why can’t Toronto?

This announcement to develop a highspeed wireless zone in downtown Toronto is a good starting point. But, we also need to address the needs of those not living in the urban core: the suburban population as well as those living in rural communities.

High-speed wireless access to the Internet anywhere in the downtown core, while a great first step, is not a solution. We need to do more.