Vancouver council passes motion for free public WiFi in DTES

A motion calling for free WiFi in the Downtown Eastside to help unhoused people access support was passed unanimously by the Vancouver City Council Wednesday.

Councillor Christine Boyle tells CityNews that the motion is focused on expanding access to public WiFi in the Downtown Eastside and adding public WiFi access points in BC housing, non-profit and city-owned social housing.

Boyle says without access to free WiFi the city faces a “digital divide” because the internet is part of daily life in 2024.

“We know that access to WiFi is critical and sometimes life-saving for people across the city and particularly people on lower incomes,” she said.

“Access to WiFi is a lifeline to social support, including staying in touch with family and friends as well as access to knowledge or employment.”

The councillor says life-saving health care is only available through WiFi. These include provincially and federally funded like the nurse’s hotline, telehealth physician care, and virtual support services.

“With the toxic drug crisis claiming more lives every day, we need to do whatever we can to connect people to the resources and supports they need,” she said.

“Expanding the public WiFi network is one common sense way to do that. And it also bolsters economic development in areas that are frequented by tourists, such as Gastown or Chinatown – a win-win.”

Boyle adds not everyone can afford WiFi.

“People may not be conscious of how hard it can be to get online,” she said.

“If your income is so tight that paying a monthly phone bill is out of your budget… these types of vital public services help to provide that support for people who are struggling.”

The councillor says this is an important support to help people get back on their feet or stay connected.

The wide range of supportive voices at the council for the proposed motion was inspiring, she says.

“(There is) a recognition of the importance of providing access to resources and supports that already exists to help close that gap that exists and support people where they’re at, in getting back on their feet and in improving their health and finding housing and more,” she said.

Oona Krieg, COO of Brave Technology Co-op, says she strongly supports the motion.

“Our endorsement stems from recognizing that access to the internet is a critical lifeline for those residing in the DTES,” they said.

“This initiative is a significant step toward creating a safer, more connected, and inclusive city for all, especially for those historically excluded from accessing digital resources.”

According to the councillor, the public WiFi expansion is also “expected to bolster local businesses and tourism.”

Landon Hoyt, executive director of Hastings Crossing BIA, says this is very good for small businesses.

“Improving access and connectivity is good for everyone in our neighbourhoods, whether they are visiting from out of town, or delivering goods in the area, stopping at a local business, or struggling to get by,” they said.

“As a BIA, we recognize that our neighbourhood is safer and healthier when everyone has access to the supports and resources that help them survive and thrive. In this day and age, being able to get online is a fundamental part of our lives, and improving that access will lift everyone up.”

The City of Vancouver currently has 521 free public WiFi locations across the city, through a mix of private and public access buildings.

With files from Srushti Gangdev

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