Commentary

Chicago Scraps Muni WiFi

Chicago is the latest city to pull the plug on plans to build a citywide municipal wireless system after failing to come to terms with EarthLink, its perspective partner, the Chicago Tribune reports today. Chicago is the largest city so far to scrap its municipal plans in the face of new demands from commercial partners to act as “anchor tenant” and commit to purchase a certain level of wireless data services each year. Earlier this summer, Anchorage, Alaska, and Corona, California, decided to drop their plans for similar reasons. MetroFi was the commercial partner in both cases. In addition to the disagreement over the city’s role as anchor tenant, a number of other factors influenced the decision, including the wider availability of affordable wired and wireless Internet connections, some provided by the city itself through other departments. For example, free wireless Internet is available in all 79 city public libraries as well as in large downtown public spaces such as the city’s Millenium Park and Daley Plaza.

Chicago never intended to be a leader in municipal Wi-Fi, said a city official, preferring instead to watch what happened in other cities and learn from that. Some of what’s happening isn’t pretty. In San Francisco, bickering among elected officials has stalled progress for months. In Houston, where the city council approved a contract with EarthLink last spring, work on the project has yet to start. As municipal wireless projects have hit one snag after another, prices for wired Internet have fallen. AT&T charges $20 a month for speeds of 1.5 megabits a second in Chicago and will provide connections half that fast for $10 to new subscribers, although more than 10 percent of residences in the metropolitan area cannot get digital subscriber line service because they are located too far from AT&T’s switching centers.

Steven Titch served as a policy analyst at Reason Foundation from 2004 to 2013.

Titch's work primarily focused on telecommunications, the Internet and new media. He is a former managing editor of InfoTech & Telecom News (IT&T News) published by the Heartland Institute. His columns have appeared in Investor's Business Daily, Total Telecom, and America's Network, among others.

Prior to joining Reason in 2004, Titch covered the telecommunications industry as a journalist for more than two decades. Titch was director of editorial projects for Data Communications magazine where he directed content development for supplemental publications and special projects. He has also held the positions of editorial director of Telephony, editor of Global Telephony magazine, Midwest bureau chief of CommunicationsWeek, and associate editor-communications at Electronic News.

Outside of the telecom industry, Titch conducted rich media and content development for publishers and corporate marketing groups. He has also developed and launched his own web-based media, including SecuritySquared.com, an on-line resource for the security industry.

Titch graduated cum laude from Syracuse University with a dual degree in journalism and English.