Friday, August 31, 2007

free muni Wi-Fi in peril

EarthLink's woes put free muni Wi-Fi in peril
EarthLink says it can't afford to foot the bill to build citywide Wi-Fi networks, jeopardizing cities' plans to provide low-income residents with affordable broadband.
By Marguerite Reardon
Staff Writer, CNET
Published: August 31, 2007, 4:00 AM PDT

EarthLink's scaled-back municipal Wi-Fi business has jeopardized many cities' plans to bring free or low-cost broadband to low-income residents.

A day after EarthLink announced a massive restructuring that would essentially put almost half its employees out of work, the company wriggled its way out of contracts with Houston and San Francisco to build their citywide Wi-Fi projects. For each of these cities, providing free or low cost wireless broadband was the main reason for building the networks.

Over the past few years, blanketing cities with unlicensed Wi-Fi signals has been viewed as a cheap solution to bringing affordable or even free broadband access to cities. Politicians and community leaders have rallied around the technology as an economic development tool that could help bring low-income individuals into the bustling economy of the 21st century.

But as the economic reality of building a network primarily to serve up low-cost broadband access settles in at EarthLink, the company's top brass says the strategy isn't viable. And as a leader in this industry, cities are now scrambling to find alternative ways to finance their Wi-Fi dreams. (...)

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