An ambitious effort to provide free WiFi in a large number of New York City parks -- including the massive Central Park -- has collapsed, after the company behind it couldn't raise the funds to build out the networks and keep them operating. The company was unable to round up corporate sponsors willing to back the project, and it couldn't afford the concession fee it had agreed to pay to the city. It also suffered from a difficult buildout, in particular getting backhaul for its WiFi nodes into the parks. The shutdown highlights, yet again, the problems providers can face in trying to set up large-area WiFi networks. It's far more complex than a coffee shop plugging in a router, and requires a committed and deep-pocketed benefactor. For a coffee shop or business district, the benefits of sponsoring or backing WiFi is easy to envision, but for a public space like a park, it's more difficult to sell sponsors (particularly companies) on the benefits. Local governments are likely losing some of their interest in paying, too, given the budget shortfalls many are experiencing. The big push for muni WiFi lost a lot of its steam in 2008, and it continues to look like the sponsored hotzone will continue to be the way forward for larger-scale free WiFi.
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