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4/25/2008
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EarthLink To Shut Down New Orleans' Municipal Wi-Fi

The project goes dark May 18 after the Internet service provider said it was unable to find a buyer.

New Orleans is about to lose its municipal Wi-Fi network as EarthLink plans to halt its participation in the citywide project on May 18, an EarthLink spokesman said Friday.

The Internet service provider had tried a three-pronged approach before it decided to terminate the network, said Chris Marshall, EarthLink's VP of corporate communications. First, EarthLink tried to sell the network outright. Second, it sought to transfer ownership of the network to the city of New Orleans. Finally, it tried to transfer the network to a third party. All three approaches failed.

"We were unable to find a buyer -- either the city or an outside buyer," Marshall said, noting that New Orleans city officials and customers have been informed that EarthLink will remove its network. Subscribers are being offered alternate EarthLink high-speed broadband or dial-up services in place of Wi-Fi.

Earlier this month, EarthLink finalized moves to transfer its Wi-Fi networks in Corpus Christi, Texas, and Milpitas, Calif., to those cities' governments.

EarthLink still has Wi-Fi network arrangements with Philadelphia and Anaheim, Calif., and while those arrangements remain in place, EarthLink has indicated it would like to terminate all of its municipal networks. The company has said it is in discussions with Philadelphia and Anaheim concerning the networks.

EarthLink's network assets in Milpitas and Corpus Christi are in the process of being transferred to the respective cities.

Many municipal Wi-Fi networks have had problems. Some, like Sacramento, San Francisco, and Boston, have yet to get off the ground after initial periods of hopeful euphoria. Some have been successful, like Minneapolis' 54-square-mile Wi-Fi network, but even Minneapolis doesn't have ubiquitous coverage as it realizes the fickle Wi-Fi technology can't reach some 10% of its citizens.

Other municipal networks, like Burlington (Vermont) Telecom, are taking a cautious step-by-step approach with hopes of gradually adding wireless access to existing landline networks.

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