updated 3/7/2006 3:07:06 PM ET 2006-03-07T20:07:06

Toronto Hydro Telecom Inc. announced plans Tuesday to blanket downtown Toronto with Wi-Fi coverage, allowing laptops to log onto the Internet anywhere within the zone, from park benches to cars and cafeterias.

The project will establish Canada's largest zone of wireless fidelity — or Wi-Fi — the company said.

"This is both an exciting and very important initiative for the city of Toronto," Mayor David Miller said in a release announcing the plan. "It puts us on the leading edge of the telecommunications industry nationwide and globally."

Toronto Hydro Telecom, a subsidiary of Toronto Hydro Corp., said it would install radio access points on streetlight poles throughout a 3.75 square mile area in the downtown core.

The "hot spot" will be set up in stages, with the first phase bringing Wi-Fi to the financial district of downtown. The entire project should be complete by the end of the year.

For the first six months, Toronto Hydro will offer customers free access to the zone. After that, it will begin to charge.

"Wi-Fi technology is the new benchmark for urban living," stated Toronto Hydro president David Dobbin. "It's standard equipment in many electronic devices, from laptops to portable entertainment units."

But private telephone companies are outraged by the plans, questioning why a public utility needs to compete with the private sector in a well-served market.

Mike Lee, chief strategy officer with Rogers Communications Inc., one of the country's largest telecommunications companies, said he did not understand why the cash-strapped city of Toronto wanted to enter the Internet access business.

"It will not be an easy business," he told the National Post. "In this day and age, the focus should be on core operations more than anything. I was surprised to see they are looking to get into this business."

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