MuniWiFi in Rural Quebec

Municipalité de Nouvelle Miguasha Gaspésie Québec Canada

Nouvelle, a rather small village of 2000 inhabitants in Eastern Quebec, is rolling out an inexpensive plan for municipal wireless using WiMAX.

MuniWiFi has often been criticised, especially in the United States. Some plans, especially in large cities, have been pegged as anti-competitive and “bad for business.” Sprint Nextel’s involvement in WiMAX  is possibly being reconsidered. But the Nouvelle plan seems different.

In this case, the municipality isn’t competing with a private provider since wiring up the region wouldn’t be profitable for a private provider anyway. According to a short report on a tech podcast over at Radio-Canada, the plan is to integrate the WiMax plan as a utility on residents’ tax bill. Apparently, the plan would cost 50$ (CAD) a year for each household.

Given the current economic conditions for remote parts of Quebec, this could easily be the beginning of a new trend. Not that a small village would suddenly be transformed into a hub of tech expertise. But opportunities for telecommuting can eventually reverse the trend toward “rural exodus.” Some comment writers on the Radio-Canada piece mention the possibility to bring young people back to rural areas in Quebec. In fact, there’s currently a government-sponsored campaign to get young people to move away from urban areas back into rural areas. Similar campaigns exist to get newcomers (immigrants and migrants) to move to those areas. Much of these campaigns might have more to do with employment than with anything else and the notion seems to be that the best way to attract anyone to those regions is to have good employment opportunities.

At the same time, some urbanites are moving to those regions. Gaspésie, where this WiFi-savvy village is located, is one such region which attracts increasing number of wealthy urbanites who move there to avoid the stresses of city life. The result is often that real-estate prices are going up for the most desirable places, making it more difficult for young locals to get their own propriety. It also seems that some urbanites fail to engage in the local communities to which they moved, thereby creating some tension between individuals in those communities.

2 thoughts on “MuniWiFi in Rural Quebec”

  1. It’s totally wrong to suggest that community based information services are fundamentally harmful to other businesses.
    On the contrary: increased awareness, experience, and use of these systems, whoever their provider, will be a boon to anyone in the same or related industries.

    Providing a basic level of services through civic institutions does not create a threatening level of competition, because a city or municipality cannot (and should not) offer the same services as a commercial paid-for service.
    Providing wireless coverage on a 10mbps shared line is within the range of many communities, but that doesn’t mean people will stop paying for their own, private internet providers, who can provide data services at 100mpbs+.

    If a government body can provide a basic level of Internet access or other data services, this should always be encouraged. It will benefit all members of the community, INCLUDING the related businesses.

  2. Emptyk, thanks for this comment!
    It does sound like the reluctance, on the part of ISPs, to accept muniWiFi has more to do with fear than with any rational analysis. As with many other things which relate to current technology, it seems that a perception of entrenched business models is preventing people from making sound decisions.
    One thing I like about this specific case is that muniWiFi is a reasonable solution to a simple problem. In large cities, muniWiFi is described (by private ISPs) as a pipe dream. In the U.S., it seems that the FUD spewed by ISPs has to do with simplistic arguments on free-market economy and on corporate liability. Such arguments are much less likely to work in Quebec as people are less concerned with those issues.

    Of course, some ISPs are open to muniWiFi. It does seem like some people at Sprint are still a bit ambivalent about the whole thing but it’s quite likely that ISP-backed muniWiFi will become prevalent in different parts of North America.

    As for bandwidth, I think that it shouldn’t be the only factor of differentiation between muniWiFi and private ISPs. There are other ways for ISPs to provide added value to customers, including some of the strategies they’re already using. They could even get creative and offer services such as “roaming WiFi,” easy Web hosting, and content deals.
    Conversely, municipalities could do a few things to make their Internet connection less threatening to ISPs. One could be a monthly cap on transfers. And I’m sure they could think of other things. Not that nagging screens and advertising would work. But there must be some way to make basic muniWiFi useful without discouraging private ISPs.

    I guess I should take a look at existing muniWiFi in Canada and the United States.

    Thanks again for your comments!

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