Muni WiFi Doesn't Look So Impressive Now — But That Should Change
from the aligning-incentives dept
We posted earlier this week about another poor early review of a municipal WiFi network, this time in Corpus Christi, Texas. This sort of story seems to be about par for the course for the networks, with users’ problems highlighting the issue that WiFi simply may not be the right technology for these deployments. Yet another town has launched their network this week, in a public-private partnership that’s similar to the approach many municipalities are taking: in exchange for rights to mount equipment on streetlights and other property, a business builds and operates the WiFi network, typically providing some level of free services to the city and its residents, then running paid services as well. While there are obviously still costs the localities undertake in setting up and running the networks, private companies typically bear the vast majority of the costs, so the perception that local governments are paying through the nose to provide some crappy free WiFi is, in most cases, inaccurate.
That’s the crux of the matter at the moment, though: so many of these networks don’t seem to be providing very good service to residents. They’re plagued by reports of connectivity problems, particularly when people try and use the service inside their homes. The providers’ most common response is that users need to buy a repeater to improve indoor coverage — and while those don’t carry a huge cost, the fact that they carry any cost at all doesn’t jibe with many people’s expectations of a “free” service. Many people might expect nothing less from a government-offered service, and further expect the WiFi networks to wither away. However, the public-private model being used here should be the saving grace. The companies involved have an incentive to make the service work: not just contracts guaranteeing a minimum level of service to the city, but the need to run profitable businesses. That’s going to be hard if the networks provide such bad service — so it will have to change. As for the technology these companies will come to rely on, that remains unclear as WiFi still looks like it may not be up to the task in its current implementation.