from the weak-signal-strength dept
Municipal WiFi’s been having a rough time lately, as the ridiculous levels of hype that built up around it comes back to bite it in the backside. Things have taken a turn for the worse over the past week: EarthLink’s deal with San Francisco (which garnered tons of hype) now looks like it’s dead, while its deal in Houston looks like it’s dying as the company pulls back from muni WiFi altogether. Meanwhile, city officials in Chicago have dropped their plans to get a vendor to build a citywide network there, after balking at demands that the city become the network’s anchor tenant, and guarantee certain payments to the vendors. Elsewhere in Illinois, AT&T has decided not to move forward with plans to build a muni network in Springfield.
All in all, it’s not been a good week for muni WiFi and its backers. But does all this bad news spell doom for muni WiFi as a whole? Perhaps — but the idea of municipal wireless in general still could hold some value. Muni WiFi is bound to fail when it’s being judged by unrealistic expectations — as so many muni networks are. Vendors and politicians have whipped up a frenzy around the networks, while a willing media lapped up the stories and fed them to an easily excitable public. The fact remains that there are plenty of useful applications of municipal wireless; delivering widespread public internet access, and making money from it, may simply not be one of them. Also, as we’ve stated before, WiFi — a local networking technology — may not be the best technology to use for covering large areas. WiMAX could hold some promise in this regard, while in terms of muni broadband in general, fiber is probably even better. And, as Rick Martin points out, many smaller communities are seeing more success with their muni WiFi efforts, an indication that smaller-scale installations are much more workable than huge citywide installations in places like Chicago and San Francisco. He also passes along the quote that muni WiFi is “the monorail of the decade” — meaning it’s the boondoggle du jour for local politicians. But as Martin also notes, that while the monorail has never really lived up to its hype as the solution to cities’ public transport ills, the concept and some of the technology has lived on in the form of light rail and other transport projects. In the same way, while muni WiFi might be looking pretty poorly, the idea of municipal wireless, or municipal broadband, should live on.
Filed Under: chicago, muni wifi, san francisco
Companies: at&t, earthlink