Kincardine councillor pushes for a free wireless Internet hotspot


By Kristen Shane


When Jacqueline Faubert first moved to Kincardine she wanted to use the Internet but hadn’t yet hooked hers up. So she grabbed her laptop and headed to the library. But signs there told her wireless Internet wasn’t available.


Then, on a summer trip through Nova Scotia, Faubert and her husband noticed highway signs telling drivers which exits they could take to find not only lodging or food but also free publicly-accessible wireless Internet.


“We actually frequented very, very rural towns through Nova Scotia based on whether they had hotspots,” says Faubert. “(I) thought that would be a really excellent thing to pull people off the highway and into downtown Kincardine.”


Turns out Kincardine councillor Ron Hewitt had the same idea.


When he’s travelling, he says, he tends to stop in towns with wireless Internet hotspots.


Some businesses and Business Improvement Areas across the province provide hotspots, says Hewitt, so why not Kincardine?


Hewitt wants Bruce Telecom, a municipally-owned utility company, to set up a free wireless hotspot somewhere in Kincardine’s downtown or another central tourist-heavy area. He envisions it would be accessible to visitors without a password. It wouldn’t cost much to install the equipment, he says. The municipality could pay for highway signage to advertise the service.


Hewitt floated the idea by Mayor Larry Kraemer who brought it up with Bruce Telecom’s CEO at a summer meeting.


Hewitt has also talked to company officials about the idea.


“They were very supportive of it and they said they’d look into it,” he says.


But there’s a hiccup.


“The difficulty is to provide a free service for visitors that wouldn’t undermine (Bruce Telecom’s) business in Kincardine,” says Kraemer. “How do you get the right footprint?”


Hewitt says the company is looking for a place where tourists would be naturally, that is far enough away from potential local customers who might opt to use it instead of paying for their own access.


But Faubert says she doesn’t think the free competition would be an issue.


“My initial response is that I think they’re thinking about two different clientele sectors,” she says.


Permanent local residents wouldn’t likely rush out to use the free service if they already have Internet at home, she says. And Kincardine’s population is so spread out in most parts of town that only a few people might have access to the hotspot from their homes. Even if they did, they might shy away from using an unsecured connection if they were doing banking or using their credit card online, for instance.


The new Coffee Culture Café and Eatery downtown may have wireless Internet. The library is supposed to get it next year too (see story in the paper version of this week's Independent). Kincardine’s tourism information office on Highway 21 and the Books & Beans coffee shop downtown already provide it. Neither charges for it, although Books & Beans encourages users to buy food or drink.


Owner Rob Millar says at least a quarter of his clientele uses either the wireless or $3-an-hour desktop Internet options everyday.


Hewitt says he’s not interested in drawing revenue from the coffee shop. He hopes his idea would have the opposite effect if it happens.


“The issue is bringing people downtown so they use it; if they come downtown, hopefully they’ll go to restaurants and shop,” he says.


Kraemer says a Bruce Telecom spokesperson told him last month the company is still looking into the idea. Hewitt says he hopes to have the hotspot cooking for next summer’s tourist season.

But it might end up being a moot point in the end, says Millar. Many smart phones already have built-in wireless Internet connections and don’t need an external transmitter or hotspot. If that technology catches on, the need for a hotspot might grow cold, he says.