Citywide Wi-Fi Turns Out To Be Impossible for Big Towns, Easy for Little Towns

Illustration for article titled Citywide Wi-Fi Turns Out To Be Impossible for Big Towns, Easy for Little Towns

They said it couldn't be done... and they were totally freaking right. EarthLink is pulling the plug on its San Francisco Wi-Fi build-out, says the AP, while developers in Chicago and Houston are having similar crises of faith. Bizarrely, MuniWireless.com reports that currently 455 cities and counties are interested in building Wi-Fi projects, up from 122 a couple of years ago.

My guess is that many of these 455 cities are going to catch on to the fact that there's no business model and, in the wake of impending citywide WiMax, no real motivation, and will similarly ditch the plans. This quote from EarthLink chief Rolla Huff about says it all:

"We will not devote any new capital to the old municipal Wi-Fi model that has us taking all the risks. In my judgment, that model is simply unworkable."

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What's funny to me is that these projects are collapsing before the inevitable flood of angry customer-support calls.

UPDATE: Check out the comments — apparently, a lot of small cities have pulled this off. [AP/Yahoo]

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DISCUSSION

QBrad:

I can't speak for Korea- but I can tell you that Japan "Doesn't do it". Free Wifi in stores/restaurants is a rarity (even in Akihabara) and I'm not aware of any Japanese cities with city-wide wifi. I lived near Tokyo for most of the past year and I usually only found free wifi near apartments (where individuals didn't put a password/WEP key on their wifi) and at DS/PSP stations (which, I believe, we have in the US, too). In fact, the Japanese seem very staunch on making consumers pay for internet access. Most people you see in Japan using the internet in public are doing it through their cell phone plan or home ISP. Through Asahi.net, I got a few hours a month of wifi access- if I could find the proper access point.. which I never did. In Japan, Cyber-cafe's are still very popular to access the Web by a PC.