What Killed Muni Wireless?

In an article in this month’s The Freeman, published by the Foundation for Economic Education, I discuss the reasons behind the speed at which municipal wireless fell out of favor nationwide. If there’s a nut paragraph in there, it’s this:

Municipal advocates believed that wireless systems could be cheaper to build and could provide enough bandwidth to support no-frills high-speed Internet (no cable or phone) to the point where ubiquitous service could be offered for as little as $10-$20 a month, if not free. But cities, while hatching their plans two and three years ago, failed to take the speed of market and technology evolution into account. By the time they began to rev up for launch, commercial service providers, not to mention hotel chains, coffee shops, and shopping-mall food courts, had the same WiFi technology in operation that the cities had hoped to pioneerââ?¬â??in the very places that cities had hoped would generate early revenues.

The problem with applying public funds to communications and IT infrastructure is that the status quo is never static enough to allow an effective response. When broadband rolled out, the wealthier areas were first to get service. But the mistake was to assume it was going to stay that way.

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