Friday, October 28, 2016 by Cate Malek

Proposal stirs debate over whether internet would bring Pokemon or porn to parks

Members of the Parks and Recreation Board recently painted two very different images of a proposal to investigate the idea of bringing free Wi-Fi access to Auditorium Shores.

In an 8-1 vote at their Oct. 25 meeting, board members passed a plan to take the first exploratory steps to introduce public internet to Auditorium Shores, in hopes that the service will make it possible for Austinites to use their wireless devices to read or play games while relaxing in the park. Two members of the board were absent.

Board Member Pat Wimberly voted against the plan because of concerns that it would lead to people using the internet for porn or playing loud music.

“I’m more interested in Pokemon Go than pornography,” said Board Member Rick Cofer.

The plan for Wi-Fi in the parks was initially proposed by city staff on June 28. It would be an ambitious undertaking, considering that a rash of other cities attempted similar plans about 10 years ago and found public internet to be too expensive. But Austin’s parks department wants to follow the example of cities like Plano, which successfully introduced Wi-Fi to around 4,000 acres of parkland, according to city staff.

Another example is Round Rock, where Board Member Francoise Luca said she stumbled on a Pokemon spot in a public park and that it had brought life and energy to the area.

“It would be nice to bring that kind of energy to our parks,” she said.

Wimberly said he couldn’t support any proposals for public internet because he was concerned it would bring “a disparaging element” into the parks. He cited the case of New York City, which he said installed internet kiosks where people “played loud, explicit music, used drugs and alcohol, and used pornography.”

“I just wanted to make sure that the board had considered the full scope of the project,” he said.

In fact, the details of the project are still to be determined. Board members emphasized that it was a “broad-brush” proposal that has yet to be given a budget, timeline or any sense of what the internet infrastructure might be. City staff will gather more information in the coming months.

But despite the preliminary nature of the proposal, the majority of the board was enthusiastic.

“I understand that it’s open for illicit things on the internet, which happen,” said Chair Jane Rivera. “But so much of our modern life is conducted on the internet now, that I do support the concept.”

The board is looking at Auditorium Shores for the test run because of its central location on Riverside Drive.

“Auditorium Shores is an urban park where people take a break from city life,” said Board Member Michael Casias. “And some people take a break by reading the paper on their laptops. So I think we’re doing something that is modern and up with the times.”

Photo by WhisperToMe made available through public domain.

The Austin Monitor’s work is made possible by donations from the community. Though our reporting covers donors from time to time, we are careful to keep business and editorial efforts separate while maintaining transparency. A complete list of donors is available here, and our code of ethics is explained here.

‹ Return to Today's Headlines

  Read latest Whispers ›

Do you like this story?

There are so many important stories we don't get to write. As a nonprofit journalism source, every contributed dollar helps us provide you more coverage. Do your part by joining our subscribers in supporting our reporters' work.

Key Players & Topics In This Article

City of Austin Parks and Recreation Department: The city department responsible for the city's park system, rec centers, and associated infrastructure.

Parks and Recreation Board: The city’s Parks and Recreation Board members deal with the acquisition, development, improvement, and maintenance of Austin’s parks and playgrounds.

Back to Top