Face it, Muni Wireless Is a Bust

From the reporting of the event, the atmosphere of Esme Vos’ MuniWireless 07: New England this week has been downright dour. Recent press reports, from AP, to InformationWeek to The Economist, had speakers and consultants on the defensive. Suddenly we are hearing that cities need to re-adjust expectations; rethink business models and perhaps abandon the idea that citywide wireless mesh, whether city-funded or not, is an effective way to deliver cheap, ubiquitous broadband. And, by the way, give up on the idea that it can be free. Even Vos herself is coming close to conceding the technology was overhyped and that few city managers grasped its cost and complexity. Yet she remains steadfast in her support for government-financed networks, even if she can’t quite put her finger on an actual model that works, at least outside of Europe, where business subsidies are a matter of course. Here’s part of Computerworld’s report:

Vos was quick to tell conference attendees in brief remarks and reporters in interviews that none of the big U.S. cities with ambitious plans have fully deployed their networks. Some cities such as Philadelphia and San Francisco have begun falling short of lofty political goals to serve poor neighborhoods and to listen to grass roots political organizations as well, Vos and other attendees pointed out. “The [approval] process has moved away from its roots, and we’ve seen tension in San Francisco,” Vos noted. “They’ve moved away from the community model.” Vos pointed to St. Cloud, Fla., as a success, but said that some IT managers will visit a conference and hear about successes where a town’s geography was flat, only to encounter problems when they hit their hilly home communities that require installing many more access points for full coverage. One attendee asked Vos if municipal Wi-Fi is working anywhere, which prompted her to mention St. Cloud. After her mention, the attendee asked again, “Is it really working anywhere?” Vos didn’t have a chance to respond.

Saved by the bell, I guess.