Houston Free Muni WiFi: Good Luck Getting Access To It

Even when it gets municipal wireless for free, a city can still manage to screw it up. The City of Houston will use $3.5 million it received from EarthLink when it canceled its wireless partnership to build a limited network of WiFi hotspots in low income neighborhoods, butââ?¬â??get thisââ?¬â??residents will not be permitted access. Instead, according to the Houston Chronicle, the city is using the settlement funds to provide computers and free high-speed connectivity to community centers, nonprofit groups and schools. All well and good, until we learn that the network will be password-protected, the wireless connection it provides will only be available to those who participate in classes and programs at the locations.

While some laud Houston’s “Digital Inclusion Initiative” as a more feasible way for a municipality to increase Internet literacy and access, others say it is virtually unprecedented for a city to build a network only to limit its use.

Here’s another case where the resulting muni system turns out to be nothing like what was promised. The best that can be said is that the money comes from EarthLink, not the city coffers. But it says much about the whole municipal broadband effort when a city can’t make a funded broadband network work for the people who might need it. It demonstrates the basic reason government should not be in this business. No matter who’s footing the bill, government can’t do broadband right. Link to the Houston Chronicle article is here. The lead serves as an epitaph for the whole muni broadband cause.