by Carlo Longino

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.

Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1. identicon
    Shel Leader, Dec 28th, 2006 @ 8:37am

    "Free" Wi-Fi

    Wi-Fi systems are not cheap. It cost money to engineer, it cost money to construct, and it cost money to connect them to the internet. The companies marketing the public-private partnerships to municipalities use a business model that assumes there is money to be made from "add-on" services. These companies make a lot of promises to get an exclusive franchise. You can bet good money that many of these systems will fall apart from lack of maintenance if they don't make money. No system is designed to provide effective indoor coverage. That would cost too much. It's up to the end users to bring the signal into the building. Also many users will be disapointed by the lack of bandwidth availability. The old saying that if something is too good to be true, it probably is!!! is very applicable to these municipal systems.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  2. identicon
    DKP, Dec 28th, 2006 @ 9:28am

    one word


    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  3. identicon
    RegularMovements, Dec 28th, 2006 @ 9:29am

    Fiber is good. Keeps colons happy. Keeps clones happy, too, oddly enough.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  4. identicon
    justin, Dec 28th, 2006 @ 9:45am

    i wantz free wifi

    Even tho the wifi isn't 100% stable, it is free ... people will complain about everything ... even these crappy articles carlo's writes ... (kidding) I'd like my town to provide free wifi -- save me 40-50/month ...

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  5. identicon
    jason, Dec 28th, 2006 @ 9:49am


    So what you have to buy a repeater! Its like saying oh the OTA TV HD signals are free but I have to buy a receiver or better antenna to get them so I think its a crap governement service. IDIOTS!

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  6. identicon
    Davey, Dec 28th, 2006 @ 10:24am

    I'm surprised there isn't more experimenting going on with wimax. That would seem like the perfect solution, compared with towers every few feet in a city.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  7. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Dec 28th, 2006 @ 10:47am

    google free wifi

    up in MountView Cali google gives the city free wifi -- from my understanding it's decent ... freakin' texas screwing things up again

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  8. identicon
    Stuart@WiFi.com, Dec 28th, 2006 @ 11:14am


    Actually, many of the case studies, RFP's, and larger implementations of the municipal wirelesss Internet networks in the U.S. are based upon WiMax/WiFi-mesh systems. Not all will be implemented as such because of examples such as; cost of the build and establishment of technology.

    The best plan, imo, is a wimax/wifi-mesh network offered free, with a lower cost payfor service which offers a free bridge for those using the service in-home. Plus, payfor (as is already the case with Earthlink Muni-WiFi) gets greater speeds than the free service

    The one big problem with the free equpiment is; many people will need help setting it up and the need for technical support staff and costs associated with maintaining will likely outweigh the free equipment.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  9. identicon
    Kit, Dec 28th, 2006 @ 12:40pm


    I live in Portland, OR. we have a wifi "blanket" here now... it sucks. i see the antenas all over the place, and occationaly get a "very low" signal in my house. If I decide to go out and actually get a "good" connection, still the connection speed is 1mbps. there is a huge (like 1") border on my browser windows (to support the free ad-supported version) and all of the bandwidth that I would normally use to view webpages, or download something is taken up by these constantly refreshing ads. I was thinking, wow, maybe if I pay I can see better speeds... NO! if you pay, all that happens is no border on your browser. and 1mbps is nothing that i'm willing to pay for! Unless we see some "real" speeds from this, I see it going nowhere, and fast!

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  10. identicon
    bodhiguy, Dec 28th, 2006 @ 8:39pm

    Why bother to leave a comment ?

    I'm wondering what happens to comments ? I have posted a couple of times here and my comments seem to never get posted or are removed ? I use no vulgarity, advertise nothing, and attack no one.

    It seems that this happens regularly and I am wondering why readers would waste their time even reading this site, if posts are not added consistently ?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  11. icon
    Mike (profile), Dec 29th, 2006 @ 9:53am

    Re: Why bother to leave a comment ?

    I'm wondering what happens to comments ? I have posted a couple of times here and my comments seem to never get posted or are removed ? I use no vulgarity, advertise nothing, and attack no one.

    Bodhiguy, we have never removed any of your comments. Do not make statements like that if you cannot back it up.

    We do use a spam filter, but regularly go through and release any legit comments that have been caught. If your comments were in the spam filter they've been released.

    I currently show 10 comments from you, starting in October. If you can let us know where these supposedly "missing" comments were supposed to be, I will look to see what happened -- but I can assure you, we do not remove comments that are not spam.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

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