Monday, November 19, 2007

What About Municipal Wi-Fi?

Following several years of failed promises for municipal Wi-Fi projects--and growing consumer demand--a recent review in the San Francisco Chronicle reports that "the reality is somewhere in between hype and hopelessness."

Municipal (for most of those interested, read free) Wi-Fi in Tacoma has never got off the ground, largely for lack of any clear business model and in observance of services already ambient by companies like Clearwire. Efforts by the Rainier Communications Commission to create a county-wide system also failed to gain traction--for the same reasons.

The Chronicle article by staff writer Ryan Kim provides a bird’s-eye view of municipal Wi-Fi adoption, and it contends that the movement is slowing down, but progressing with clearer goals and a more logical approach that includes acknowledging that:
  • There's a learning process that big cities and counties in particular have been absorbing the hard way;
  • Municipal leaders are learning that they need to ensure that projects are profitable for their vendors;
  • The ad-supported free model, which Google had proposed for San Francisco, seems to be taking a backseat to more realistic approaches that rely on governments as anchor tenants;
  • Cities are backing off some of their talk of broad public access and bridging the digital divide in favor of more immediate goals, concrete applications and services;
  • The most popular uses among municipalities are public safety, remote worker access, meter reading and surveillance cameras.

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