Can municipal WiFi deliver what the politicians promise?

Muni-WiFi launched the public versus private debate, brought concerns over QoS and basically scared the pants off of ISPs. City governments reached into their Homeland Security coffers and asked for bids. Philadelphia picked EarthLink. San Francisco is still deciding on whom to contract. New Orleans just gave the green light. New York said it's not a matter of "if" but "when." And it seems that is the likely answer most municipalities in the know will give. Philly's WiFi endeavor inspired state lawmakers to outlaw any other town from launching subsidized service. Google's dark fiber buy-ups and bid for San Francisco led many to wonder if the goliath had its eye on a nationwide WiFi service.

I'm skeptical of these plans. Why? We have yet to see a public WiFi business model that has worked. While the economics of the technology, such as backhaul pricing, are much better than they were just three years ago, we are likely to see several technical, political and funding issues that will make such projects move slowly, if at all. Take San Francisco: Minimal standards proposed by the city's initial Request for Information and Comments have been abandoned. While the city initially wanted 1 Mbps throughput and coverage reaching 90 percent of high density apartments, the minimum bandwidth requirements have been thrown out in the city's rush to get the muni network up and running. See Kimo Crossman's blog.

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