Smartphones, laptops and tablets. They’re the devices that are becoming increasingly essential to people’s day-to-day lives and as more and more people, be it guests or residents, wander around Whistler with their devices, all of them are looking to stay connected.
It’s something that Whistler Council is well-aware of and they’ve already taken steps to look into bringing Village-wide Wi-Fi to the resort as a way to enhance the experience for both guests and Whistlerites alike.
“This was part of our Council Action Plan because it has shown up as something that the guests have been reporting to Tourism Whistler as something that they’re a little unhappy about,” said Mayor Nancy Wilhelm-Morden. “These days guests want free W-Fi wherever they go so it was something that we were interested in seeing what the feasibility was.”
However, in a report presented to council at a committee of the whole looking into the feasibility of Village-wide Wi-Fi, it was revealed that a project on such a scale would cost around $500,000 to implement, with an annual operating cost of $250,000.
“The costs came in much higher than what we’re willing to carry forward with,” said Wilhelm-Morden.
Coun. Jack Crompton agreed.
“It was too expensive for what we were going to get for it,” said Crompton. “It’s too little bang for our buck.”
According to Crompton, with so many Wi-Fi networks already provided by the private sector, paying half-a-million per year to be one of the many networks already available didn’t appear to be cost-effective.
“$500,000 to be one of 20 available networks isn’t really the best solution,” he said.
For Jim Douglas, general manager of the Pan Pacific Whistler and chair of the Hotel Association of Whistler (HAW), the thought of the muni offering free Village-wide Wi-Fi is an interesting notion but he isn’t sure if it would be right for Whistler.
“The hotel association doesn’t really have a position on this particular issue,” he said.
Douglas questioned whether or not the muni should be getting into the market of offering free Wi-Fi, which has traditionally been something taken care of by private enterprises such as the various hotels around the resort.
“Right now it’s being paid for by the market. There are some members (of the HAW) that are charging for that service and others offering it for free,” said Douglas.
However, Douglas is quick to note that with so many private enterprises such as the hotels already invested in one way or another with their wireless networks, the state of Wi-Fi in Whistler may eventually end up free for everyone without the muni’s involvement.
“I believe five years from now it’s going to be free. All of the indicators are that the consumers are going to keep demanding it and it’s eventually going to be free,” he said.
“It’s an enormous topic in our industry and it has been for the past four or five years.”
In the meantime, Coun. Crompton said that there may be interest in opening talks with other resort partners as a way to find a cohesive way to perhaps unify all of the scattered networks currently across the Village.
“I think our goal as a resort, the hotels, Tourism Whistler, the RMOW is to serve our clients,” he said. “I think our goal now is going to be seeing if we can’t find a way for private operators in town to successfully reduce the number of available networks and have the opportunity to work together.”