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Wireless Networking Networking The Internet Hardware

ISPs Losing Interest In Citywide Wireless Coverage 98

The New York Times is running a story about how hope is fading for the implementation of municipal wireless access in cities across the US. Major cities and small towns alike are finding that ISPs are withdrawing from such plans due to the low profitability of ventures that are similar to Philadelphia's incomplete network. We've previously discussed Chicago's and San Francisco's wireless status, and also some of the stumbling blocks other cities have faced. From the Times: "In Tempe, Ariz., and Portland, Ore., for example, hundreds of subscribers have found themselves suddenly without service as providers have cut their losses and either abandoned their networks or stopped expanding capacity. EarthLink announced on Feb. 7 that 'the operations of the municipal Wi-Fi assets were no longer consistent with the company's strategic direction.' Philadelphia officials say they are not sure when or if the promised network will now be completed."
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ISPs Losing Interest In Citywide Wireless Coverage

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  • by TheRaven64 ( 641858 ) on Sunday March 23, 2008 @09:19AM (#22835854) Journal
    WiFi just isn't a good technology for ubiquitous Internet, which is what they want to be providing. It's fine for covering a coffee shop, but for this kind of scheme to be cost-effective they need to cover at least a city block with a single access point.

    They're facing competition at both ends. They can't sell the service as 'Internet access in that place where you really want it' because often 'that place' already has free WiFi. They can't sell it as 'Internet access everywhere' because they don't have the coverage and their competitors, the mobile phone companies, do. Always-available Internet via my mobile phone costs about the same, per month, as via my cable modem (albeit with slower speeds and much smaller caps). For people who are willing to pay for Internet to be available all the time, that's a much better option than WiFi.

  • Profits (Score:2, Insightful)

    by nurb432 ( 527695 ) on Sunday March 23, 2008 @09:26AM (#22835896) Homepage Journal
    They wont be able to screw the consumer hard enough with what is basically free and open. ISP's want that pay per byte contract and are drooling for when they can bring it back.
  • Re:Profits (Score:5, Insightful)

    by ShieldW0lf ( 601553 ) on Sunday March 23, 2008 @09:39AM (#22835982) Journal
    That's exactly it. Capitalism hates plenty, and it will destroy it when it finds it.
  • I still believe (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday March 23, 2008 @09:49AM (#22836044)
    I still believe that city-wide WiFi is an achievable and useful thing, but only if it is provided by the people for the people. The amount of work and the cost for any individual who allows the public to connect to the internet through an already existing wireless access point is very low and the benefit of being able to use other people's access points for free is high. Politicians should not seek to fund commercial WiFi deployments. They should provide legal protection to people who share their network connection with the public.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday March 23, 2008 @09:50AM (#22836048)
    We'll always have hotspots.

    Coffeeshops rejoice, justified at pricing their coffee at more than $3 per cup.
  • Re:Profits (Score:5, Insightful)

    by aurispector ( 530273 ) on Sunday March 23, 2008 @09:57AM (#22836114)
    Free and open? "Open" I can understand, but "free"? Where did you get that idea? Even when I was in school I paid for access via tuition. Government supported access isn't "free" either, you just don't pay directly. Nothing is free.

    Although I'm no fan of corporate greed somebody, somewhere has to pay for the service.
  • by postbigbang ( 761081 ) on Sunday March 23, 2008 @10:11AM (#22836194)
    When even Google pulls back, it's a bad business model even with advertising-driven models.

    Face it, 802.11 is a LAN technology, not a MAN technology. Lipstick on that pig, even with cool mesh network attempts, isn't going to make it better. It was designed for local radial-cellular access by its channelization, and it's not good for covering wide areas. My sentiments go out to Strix and Firetide; both have decent models to make it wider. Cities have to figure out that broadband access is a utility, not an option.
  • by argent ( 18001 ) <peter&slashdot,2006,taronga,com> on Sunday March 23, 2008 @10:16AM (#22836234) Homepage Journal
    The ISPs made their own bed but we all have to sleep in it now.

    The ISPs fought tooth and nail against even modest municipal wifi limited to public areas like libraries and shopping districts, because they wanted to make money from it. So rather than municipally funded projects they promoted these ad-hoc "partnerships" that didn't, in the end, make money.
  • by Doug52392 ( 1094585 ) on Sunday March 23, 2008 @10:20AM (#22836248)
    That's why the United States is behind many other major industrialized countries in Internet speeds. Because companies in the United States care about the $$$, not about innovation or advancing technology.

    I guess the ISPs decided trying to wiretap MANs would be too hard because they have no way of proving that a certain data packet came from a certain person, and because then everyone wouldn't have to pay outrageous ripoff prices for a watered down, censored Internet...
  • Because companies in the United States care about the $$$, not about innovation or advancing technology.

    While countries elsewhere in the world are altruistic, caring little about money?
  • by grumling ( 94709 ) on Sunday March 23, 2008 @11:15AM (#22836528) Homepage
    Except that there is no penalty for everyone else if you don't provide tax-funded WiFi. If you don't collect the garbage, there will be a certain group of individuals who don't take their trash to the landfill, but just throw it out the window (see: 12th century Europe). So far, there doesn't seem to be a penalty to the city for not providing WiFi. That COULD change in the future, but it seems unlikely.

    Most taxpayers don't want to see their money going to subsidize a few people who want to use a laptop in the park, even if that's not really the point. And using anything other than a property tax that included business property wouldn't be fair to people who don't live in the area (you mentioned a wage tax - which is almost always a death sentence for local job growth in a struggling economy).

    If these municipalities were really serious, they would partner with someone who already has a wide area network in place (like Verizon or Comcast in the case of Philadelphia). For them, it would be incremental revenue, not primary. Pay them enough to get a couple of techs trained to maintain the system, give them some manner of exclusivity and limited liability, and DON'T make them provide end-user tech support. However, the muni could (and should) demand coverage minimums, QOS/uptime requirements, "openness" etc.

    Of course, that would require one to admit that networking is hard, expensive, and low margin.
  • by Adeptus_Luminati ( 634274 ) on Sunday March 23, 2008 @11:31AM (#22836608)
    Trying to create a network by installing hotspots every 150 feet or even every 1000 feet or so if you extend the transmission range over public spectrum where any Joe may interefere with it with their own cordless phone, microwave and/or home WiFi router was a silly endeavour.

    Now doing the same thing with public spectrum WiMax or UltraWideBand could work for 2-4 years until the next wireless technology improves upon it. It might work because it can cover much greater distances, so less antennas, and better ones (MiMo) and most importantly, tower equipment is expensive enough (though not very), that the average home user isn't going to be able to afford a transmitter to compete with it.

    There is one gotcha, and that is that sharing some 50 Mbits over 3-20 KM would never work because most Metro cities are too densely populated. Unless you use deep packet inspection at endpoints and allow only SMTP and true HTTP/s traffic and deny all else. South Korea has standardized on WiMax for wireless, not WIFi, and their network is mostly complete.

    Ultimately, there is a reason why Telco's pay Billions for private spectrum, because there will be (in theory) zero interference, and zero competition - although Google changed the latter slightly, lately.

    PS. If you want to learn way more on WiMax read the wikipedia page, it is very informative.

"Never face facts; if you do, you'll never get up in the morning." -- Marlo Thomas