City of Billings Drops Plan to Implement Free Wi-fi in Parks
Back in December 2021, the City of Billings Parks and Recreation Department received approval to utilize $1,023,000 in Community Development Block Grant – Coronavirus (CDBG-CV) funds. Per the requirements of the grant, funds are to be used to improve city parks located in low-income areas with a goal "to reduce the spread of COVID-19 by implementing touchless features and other elements in park facilities."
Free wi-fi will no longer be part of the improvement plan.
In the Billings City Administrator Weekly Report (3/24/22, pdf HERE), city officials announced they have nixed a somewhat controversial element of the park upgrade plan. Stating that the risks outweigh the benefits, officials have decided that free public wi-fi will not be part of the improvement upgrades at eight of the low-income neighborhood parks in Billings.
The Parks Police Officer and other law enforcement officials presented several concerns about the plan, including increased possibilities of individuals sleeping/loitering in the parks, increased potential for trash with a limited staff to clean it up, and concerns that "providing a service that will cause park users to become distracted by their electronic devices will create additional opportunities for park users to become victims of crimes."
Oh yeah, and porn.
The canceled plan to install free wi-fi in some city parks also raised concerns of creeps and pedophiles accessing adult content in close proximity to children. The wi-fi would have included a filter, but due to legalities users would have had the ability to easily opt-out of the filter, essentially making it worthless.
OPINION: I feel that the city has made the right decision. The concept of free wi-fi in parks, particularly those in lower-income neighborhoods sounds nice, and I'm sure many residents would appreciate the ability to access the web at the park. Beyond the reasons already stated by law enforcement, I feel that parks are probably the last place you should be on your phone. I mean... isn't that why you came to the park in the first place?