Out of Control Policy Blog

Itís Official: NY Times Sticks a Fork in Muni WiFi

...And it's done.

Citing "unrealistic ambitions and technological ambitions," The New York Times all but wrote an obituary for big city municipal WiFi last Saturday, acknowledging the problems in Philadelphia, San Francisco, Portland, Ore., Tempe, Ariz., that for years municipal proponents attributed to exaggeration by industry lobbyists if they did not deny them altogether.

The article, by Ian Urbina, is password-protected, but in three paragraphs summed up the universal problem of municipal wireless, long demonstrated in reports from the Reason Foundation, the Heartland Institute and other think tanks where a sound undertstanding of market and technical reality trumped wishful thinking:

In Philadelphia, the agreement was that the city would provide free access to city utility poles for the mounting of routers; in return the Internet service provider would agree to build the infrastructure for 23 free hotspots and to provide inexpensive citywide residential service, including 25,000 special accounts that were even cheaper for lower-income households.

But soon it became clear that dependable reception required more routers than initially predicted, which drastically raised the cost of building the networks. Marketing was also slow to begin, so paid subscribers did not sign up in the numbers that providers initially hoped, Mr. Phillis said.

Prices for Internet service on the broader market also began dropping to a level that, while above what many poor people could afford, was below what municipal Wi-Fi providers were offering, so the companies had to lower their rates even further, making investment in infrastructure even more risky, he said.


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