September 28, 2007

Public-Private Disconnect?

Filed under: — mlazoff

Yesterday’s Slate article, Where’s My Free Wi-Fi? Why municipal wireless networks have been such a flop, describes the failure of many free citywide Wi-Fi systems, particularly those based on private/public partnerships in cities like Philadelphia and San Francisco. “The result, as this summer has made clear, has been telecom’s Bay of Pigs—a project the government wanted to happen but left to underqualified private parties to deliver…The deeper problem is economics… Private municipal wireless networks have to compete against competitors with better infrastructure who paid off their capital investments years ago…Today, the limited success stories come from towns that have actually treated Wi-Fi as a public calling. St. Cloud, Fla., a town of 28,000, has an entirely free wireless network. The network has its problems, such as dead spots, but also claims a 77 percent use rate among its citizens. Cities like St. Cloud understand the concept of a public service: something that’s free, or near-free, like the local swimming pool.” Ignacio Valdes, MD, creator of the wonderful open access software news blog LinuxMedNews, noted in today’s entry that the failure of several citywide Wi-Fi projects “may shed some light on the failings of RHIOs.”  (For example, see Requiem for an HIE Dream in last month’s News&Views.)

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