UPDATE 2: Free Wi-Fi project for downtown Grand Forks ready to go

The finishing touches are being put on the project that will allow free wireless Internet in Grand Forks’ downtown core.

Brian Junnila (Peachland Rotary Club president)

Editor’s note: Updated to include School District 51 as one of the contributors.

The project that will allow free wireless Internet in Grand Forks’ downtown core is now fully operational, although some final touches are still being made.

Brian Junnila, president of Peachland’s Rotary Club, worked on a similar project in Peachland, B.C. and played a large role in the Wi-Fi (wireless fidelity, a technology that allows an electronic device to exchange data wirelessly) project.

He said the free coverage area is currently the largest in the province.

“It covers from city hall all the way down to Market Avenue and over to the library or Gyro Park and there’s a second non-connected area that is down at the (City Park) campgrounds, which covers almost the entire campgrounds, almost to the water’s edge. I think that that’s a huge benefit to visitors that are staying overnight,” Junnila said, adding that the Wi-Fi network has only been up for a few weeks but there are already 400 visitors.

He said 400 in a place like Grand Forks is actually a significant number and will only increase once the finishing touches are complete.

To access the free Internet, people in Grand Forks’ downtown area need a device with Wi-Fi capabilities and when they log in, they will be taken to a “splash page” which has terms of use and after that, users have access to the World Wide Web, although not everything will be accessible and it’s not unlimited.

The bandwidth, or ability of to transmit signals, per connection is 500 kilobytes per second.

“We do prohibit any access to any adult sites; however, you can stream music and stream video for those who don’t want to miss their television shows but after an hour, you’re required to go through a reconnection and then go for another hour and we do that just to try and make sure that people aren’t leaving devices open, downloading stuff and sort of hogging bandwidth. It’s just a fairness methodology,” he said.

Four radio units have been placed in the downtown core (six overall), which enable people access, and although Junnila said torrential rain would possibly reduce the coverage by an estimated 20 per cent, the boxes are built to withstand quite a bit of wear and tear.

“Generally speaking, cold weather doesn’t make a difference,” he explained. “These radios are rated to (a high temperature of) about 45 below (-43 C) and I think we should be covered hopefully and they’re also rated to 150 above (+66 C). These are really outdoor, super duper type access points. They’re not the ones you’re going to buy for $50 at (an electronics store).”

Some in Grand Forks may be concerned about the waves that are emitted but Junnila said the radios are safe.

“The interesting thing about the radio waves and people being concerned about cancer and that sort of thing from radio waves, I got a lot of requests to provide good information and I read about 150 different studies on radio waves, a lot of them out of Europe. What I found was that there is absolutely no conclusive evidence that any Wi-Fi signals are linked to any cancer whatsoever,” he said. “If you think of it as volume, a power line sort of has this volume, from a megahertz standpoint, zero to 300. So it’s a very long, deep wave and there are studies that show that big large power lines, there have been cases of cancer attributed to that. Our radio waves are in the 19,000 range, so studies have only shown that the lower frequency radio waves of having an issue.”

Junnila also said he went to the Canadian Health Agency and it too said there are no known issues related to that.

Community Futures Boundary first broached the topic of free Wi-Fi and the Grand Forks Rotary Club, Grand Forks Credit Union, School District 51 and the City of Grand Forks all had a part to play in the project as well.

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