Has Muni Wi-Fi Gone With The Wind? - InformationWeek

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11/6/2007
10:52 AM
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Has Muni Wi-Fi Gone With The Wind?

There are a number of "pie in the sky" dreams that have fallen by the wayside in the last few years. One of those is the idea of free, attainable municipal Wi-Fi.

There are a number of "pie in the sky" dreams that have fallen by the wayside in the last few years. One of those is the idea of free, attainable municipal Wi-Fi.I remember several years ago how excited I was when I heard that there was now free Wi-Fi in New York City's Bryant Park. I didn't plan to use it a lot -- I hadn't bought a notebook yet, and didn't spend a lot of time in that part of Manhattan -- but the idea that I could sit around in the grass and answer my e-mail seemed wonderful to me. I couldn't wait to try it out.

Since then, public Wi-Fi has become a lot more common. Anyone who needs to spend some time online and doesn't have their own broadband connection (or has temporarily lost their connection) can wander into a coffee shop or a number of other retail establishments and link up. You may not be able to be online during a flight, but most airports have either paid or free Wi-Fi available. And if you've got a smartphone (and enough financial backing to keep up with their hefty fees), you can connect anywhere through your service provider's network.

So do we still need -- or want -- publicly-funded municipal Wi-Fi?

According to our story Municipal Wi-Fi: A Promise Unfulfilled?, while muni Wi-Fi may have stalled, it hasn't stopped. Part of the problem is that officials may have overestimated the need for the public to be able to access free and/or cheap Wi-Fi in public spaces -- and the complexity involved in providing it. Many originally optimistic officials have found that, for example, the number of nodes needed to provide reasonable coverage is way more than they originally thought.

Muni Wi-Fi may have other uses than offering a way to enjoy outdoor e-mail. For example, in Corpus Christi, the service has improved communications for police and fire departments and other municipal workers.

But does that justify the large financial outlay that is needed for such a system? That's the question a lot of cities around the United States are now contending with.

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