Municipal Wi-Fi networks? Forgeddabout it.

Posted by: Olga Kharif on February 01, 2005

To prove their tech savviness, governments of cities such as Philadelphia and New York have decided, over the past year or so, to start providing wireless broadband services. Philadelphia, for one, is looking to seed all of its 135 square miles with Wi-Fi (wireles fidelity) hot spots. The project, to be funded with public funds, will cost a pretty penny: about $60,000 per square mile to deploy, plus millions more a year to run. The big issue in my mind, though, is, Should a city be running a telecommunications network at all?

I only have to think back to various cities' failed Internet access initiatives. According to a report from the Millenium Research Council due to be released on Feb 3, cost overruns for such municipal projects are quite common. Of course, that's no surprise where the government is concerned.

I am also a bit worried about network maintenance. Following the economic downturn, most of the nation's cities already struggle with having to do more with less funding. Here in Portland, Ore., which was severely impacted by the recession, I see homeless people standing at every freeway exit asking for money every day. Shouldn't the cities help people in need first? The answer is yes. So, that might mean that when a city's pockets get lean -- and that's something that happens every few years -- it could very well cut the Wi-Fi service off. And without proper maintenance, the infrastructure could quickly fall apart.

Also, what I don't understand is, why we would want to have 135 square miles of Wi-Fi coverage in the first place. Sure, city-wide coverage sounds nice. But some of these hot spots might be never used (My elderly neighbors are unlikely to hook up to the Web any time soon). And in places like parks and public libraries where lots of people might want to use Wi-Fi, chances are that private companies like Wayport have already installed their access points. So, what's the point?

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BusinessWeek writers Peter Burrows, Cliff Edwards, Olga Kharif, Aaron Ricadela, Douglas MacMillan, and Spencer Ante dig behind the headlines to analyze what’s really happening throughout the world of technology. One of the first mainstream media tech blogs, Tech Beat covers everything from tech bellwethers like Apple, Google, and Intel and emerging new leaders such as Facebook to new technologies, trends, and controversies.

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