Sunday, March 23, 2008

Municipal Wi-Fi: stick a fork in it!

Last month Earthlink admitted that its municipal Wi-Fi business was a mistake and it was bailing out. As I noted in my posting “End to the Wi-Fi mirage”:

This is probably the beginning of the end of attempts to build self-supporting municipal Wi-Fi systems (as opposed to those subsidized like parks and libraries as a “public good”).

This weekend, even the NYT has noticed (wistfully) that the city-subsidized plans are also on their way to oblivion. Not surprisingly, the system design overestimated the hotspot range and thus underestimated the number of base stations required. (WiMax partisans: take note.)

The obvious lesson is if public-private partnerships seemed like a risk-free way for government to get something for nothing, in fact if the private entity can’t make a profitable business, the partnership is doomed.

The municipal Wi-Fi fanatics are hoping to deny economic realities and have someone subsidize their pt approach to social action, urban renewal, etc. etc. But it’s time to stick a fork in the whole movement — it’s done for good. If people really care about making Internet accessible — rather than spending lots of money or building cool toys — then libraries and community centers with free Internet access are a lot less expensive way to (mostly) accomplish the same goal.

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