City-wide WiFi plans reduced to pipe dreams

March 22, 2008

City-wide WiFi plans reduced to pipe dreamsWireless internet connectivity has moved from a commodity to a way of life in a very short period of time. For many large cities in the U.S., promises of free or inexpensive city-wide WiFi plans seemed promising — but for the major service providers behind the plans, profits will likely decide whether implementation will continue or fall through.

Some of the largest U.S. cities like Chicago, Philadelphia, San Francisco and Houston have been working with large service providers like Earthlink to construct vast WiFi networks, combining hotspots and individual residence networks for little to no money. By doing so, the city would increase the value of properties in the city, as well as provide access to low-income families that might otherwise not receive it, according to the New York Times.

The problem for providers like Earthlink is that creating an unbreaking WiFi blanket can quickly become less than cost-effective; though cities allow providers to mount routers on telephone poles, frequently the providers are forced to construct additional towers to ensure the networks are uniform across the city.

This results in additional costs ranging in the millions of dollars. Though many smaller cities have implemented WiFi networks effectively, for large metropolitan cities, it simply isn’t profitable to invest millions in setup costs.

That’s because all the people who were expected to adopt the low-cost WiFi plans simply didn’t get on board in the numbers that providers expected; though plans were provided in the $20 monthly range, providers were not making up lost revenue spent on setup costs in service fees.

As a result, Earthlink has backed out of its contracts with cities like Philadelphia and San Francisco, much to the dismay of those respective cities and their inhabitants. Many low-income and poor families don’t relish the notion of traveling by bus to local libraries, and have come to rely on the city WiFi networks.

Inevitably, the “for profit” models many large service providers were hoping for will have to be abandoned in favor of non-profit models, perhaps supported by smaller service providers local to the major cities. For now, city-wide WiFi plans seem to be on hold until the age-old American capitalism can be re-evaluated for the bettering of U.S. cities.

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2 Responses to “City-wide WiFi plans reduced to pipe dreams”

  1. Leslie Poston:

    It sucks, and its really an education problem. A vast majority of the population just doesn’t understand what WiFi is, what it means to people, why it would be a good thing,, etc so they don’t behind charging for what they see as a frivolous service. Then you get the wackjobs who think WiFi transmissions might cause cancer and birth defects who fight the installation of additional towers and pole. sigh

  2. Ken:

    I don’t know how much it sucks. You can already get internet access in most cities for around the same money. If for profit businesses can’t make the numbers work, it’s pretty doubtful having local government run things isn’t going to turn into a black hole money pit.

    I’m willing to bet most people have an idea of what wireless means. The name isn’t exactly esoteric.

    AT&T has a $10 a month plan with a free modem.

    Will the city hire tech support staff? DNS Service? Will we be suppling computers to the people that are too poor to currently have wireless? What about security? Proxy servers to filter objectionable material (you know the lawsuits are coming when little Johnny finds porn)?

    It could probably work ok in a small town or city. In large cities, you’ll have government cutting out for profit businesses, and it won’t give the private sector any reason to expand and upgrade the infrastructure.

    I’d rather have more firemen and police officers. Good intentions, bad idea.

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