Chill out, log in, pay up? Province looks for parks campground Wi-Fi provider
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Campers relying on wireless internet offered by the Manitoba government to stay connected while visiting three provincial parks could face new fees to get online.
The Progressive Conservative government is seeking a telecommunications company to take over the Wi-Fi service it currently offers to campers at Birds Hill, Winnipeg Beach and Falcon Lake Beach in Whiteshell Provincial Park, according to a request for proposals.
Across the three campgrounds, there are currently 13 internet hotspots that can be used by registered guests who get a password from the campground offices, allowing them to log in.
Manitoba is billed monthly by a service provider for data usage and the government recovers the cost by including a surcharge in campground reservation fees for everyone who stays overnight at the three parks, regardless of whether they use the internet.
However, the government said it is willing to consider other billing and payment structures.
The province is asking bidding companies to outline the fees it will charge both to campers and to the government to provide internet access, opening the door for a model where only those who use Wi-Fi have to pay.
“We are open to having a service where campers are billed for their Wi-Fi directly by the service provider, and leaving Manitoba out of the transaction completely,” the province stated as part of the tendering process.
According to the request, the province also wants the third-party company to be responsible for all aspects of managing the service, including hardware, installation, maintenance, and 24-7 customer service during the typical operating season.
The hardware behind the hotspots is also assumed to be at the end of its life. Wireless internet service was first made available at the campgrounds in 2011.
“Manitoba Parks will have no role, other than the promotion of the services, issuance of passwords, and entering into a service delivery and maintenance contract with the successful proponent, in delivering wireless internet services,” the request states.
The winning company is also expected to be available to troubleshoot all connectivity issues.
According to the province, campers at the three parks used a combined 3,366 gigabytes of data in 2022. Since 2016, the highest demand for Wi-Fi was recorded in 2020, when 4,531 GB were used.
“We want a system that is hands off for our staff,” the province said in its request. “The maximum involvement from our staff is to check if the power to the service is on, or if there has been a power failure… and maybe flick a switch off and on again.”
Minister of Natural Resources and Northern Development Greg Nesbitt was not available for an interview Wednesday, his press secretary said.
In a statement, a department spokesperson said enhanced access to the internet within parks is something Manitobans value.
“Manitoba Parks has historically provided public Wi-Fi services in select campgrounds since 2011 on a fee for services basis,” the statement read. “Due to technological and industry changes, Manitoba’s current service provider is no longer able to provide the existing services.”
According to the request, the province is also considering expanding Wi-Fi service to campgrounds in St. Malo Provincial Park, Grand Beach Provincial Park and campgrounds located at Falcon Lakeshore and West Hawk.
An agreement is expected to be completed by April.
Danielle Da Silva
Danielle Da Silva is a general assignment reporter.