Covad's experiment with muni-WiFi comes at right time

With EarthLink dropping out of the muni-WiFi market and plans imploding across the country, you have to wonder why broadband operator Covad has any interest at all in muni-WiFi. But the company, which wants to extend the reach of its fixed-line broadband services to hard-to-reach areas, has agreed to test a network in San Carlos, Calif., as part of the struggling Silicon Valley Network, that ambitious WiFi initiative that aims to blanket 1,500 sq. miles with WiFi. (See story No. 1)

In reality, this might be the right time for Covad to become involved with muni-WiFi as it's becoming clear what business cases are successful. Clearly, free WiFi is not the optimal business model, but one of a mixed-use that involves the government as an anchor tenant and offering service to the public. Enough failures have shown what works and what doesn't in terms of a business model.

The other WiFi business model that is emerging--and one Covad might be most interested in--is one centered on regional wireless networks in rural areas where broadband access is sparse. The state of Vermont, for instance, aims to have 100 percent broadband coverage in the state by 2010 by helping fund wireless ISPs throughout the state. That type of model, of course, is what Silicon Valley Network aims to do in California.--Lynnette