It’s tempting to say “we told you so,” but we’ll give in to temptation. We told you so back in discussions in 2006-06.
IT WAS supposed to democratise the internet and turn America’s city-dwellers into citizen-surfers. In 2004 the mayors of Philadelphia and San Francisco unveiled ambitious plans to provide free wireless-internet access to all residents using Wi-Fi, a technology commonly used to link computers to the internet in homes, offices, schools and coffee-shops. Across America, hundreds of cities followed suit. Yet many municipal Wi-Fi projects have since been hit by mounting costs, poor coverage and weak demand. This week Chicago became the first big city to abandon its plans for a city-wide network. “Everyone would like something for free,” says Chuck Haas of MetroFi, a supplier of municipal Wi-Fi systems. But the numbers do not add up.Most city governments did not want to build or run the Wi-Fi systems themselves, so they farmed the job out to specialist firms such as EarthLink and MetroFi. These companies initially agreed to bear all expenses, expecting to sign up 10-25% of each city’s population for a fee-based wireless service. In some places this was to have been supplemented by a free service at lower speed, or supported by advertising. Some cities also planned to subsidise access for poor residents.
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