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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 Erwos ( 553607 ) on Sunday March 23, 2008 @08:59AM (#22836126)
    Very true. City-wide WiFi makes very little sense given how US cell providers are trying quite hard to roll-out 3G/3.5G/4G services. Right now, those are a little on the expensive side, but competition and better technology will eventually drive them lower.

    Hotspots are a bit more sensible, but I still think those will eventually disappear with ubiquitous cell phone data coverage.
  • Re:Profits (Score:3, Interesting)

    by ShieldW0lf ( 601553 ) on Sunday March 23, 2008 @09:02AM (#22836136) Journal
    Free means unrestricted, not "brought to you by magic faeries."

    The opposite of free isn't "expensive", it's "controlled".

    Money has no meaning beyond self-aggrandizement when there's enough to meet everyones needs.
  • Re:Profits (Score:4, Interesting)

    by vertinox ( 846076 ) on Sunday March 23, 2008 @09:10AM (#22836184)
    Parent was modded as funny, but its the one of the main reasons Tesla's wireless power transmission never got serious funding and interest by investors.

    From Wikipedia []

    However, in 1903, when the tower structure was near completion, it was still not yet functional due to last-minute design changes. Tesla intended for the tower to demonstrate how the ionosphere could be used to provide free electricity to everyone without the need for power lines. Morgan, who could not foresee any financial gain from providing free electricity to everyone, balked. Construction costs eventually exceeded the money provided by Morgan, and additional financiers were reluctant to come forward.

    And the fact that WWI broke out didn't help either...

    Even if he could get it working on a mass scale, there was no way to tell if people were using it for free or how much they were using. I suppose in retrospect they could have put a meter on the other side of the customer power receiver, but the way Tesla envision is that the devices would be independent so putting a meter on each and every light bulb would be impractical.

    With wireless, they can at least track mac addresses and force a radius login, but it still has similar problems so its easy to see why businesses are reluctant to move forward with it.
  • by vertinox ( 846076 ) on Sunday March 23, 2008 @09:32AM (#22836312)
    There ain't no such thing as a free lunch.

    True, but think of it as "city trash pickup". Of course, a city could just require by law everyone to take their own trash to the landfill like some rural areas, but if it was deemed important enough they could instead have a referendum to raise a tax (sales, property, or income) to pay for weekly trash pickup.

    Now some city dwellers may balk at the idea because they can just take the trash to the landfill themselves and save the tax money, but most cities don't work like that so their only recourse is to fight the referendum or city hall legislation. If it passes, the trash pickup truck comes once and week and picks up garbage on the sidewalk regardless of who put it there (could be someone out of town though probaly illegal if they did it regularly) and pick up any amount (some cities have limits of what they pick up but they generally don't go out and report if you left one bag or 5) and they still come by your street even if you didn't put out a bag.

    The same thing with Wifi, if a city deems it a reasonable service they can levy a tax and put it to a referendum. If the citizens don't like it they can vote against it, but if it passes then its just like garbage pickup. Not everyone will use it like everyone else (if at all... personally some weeks I'm hard pressed to even put a single trash bag out but I still pay the city tax for trash pickup) and its also going towards out of towners coming into the city and throwing their cups into public trash cans.

    So no... Its not a free lunch, but its fine if a city wants a service paid for by tax. You don't see Waste Management complaining that the government holds a monopoly on trash pickup services. Now the service is most likely subcontracted out to the lowest bidder, but in effect it is a monopoly for that city.

    The problem with most of these city ones like the Earthlink one in Philadelphia is that they are treating it and expecting income like a regular ISP which intends to make a profit.

    It would have been better if Philadelphia had a referendum to use some of the city wage tax to go for free wifi and then explained to Earthlink how much of the taxes they would get rather than expected income from monthly services from individuals who may or may not cancel their account next month.
  • by foniksonik ( 573572 ) on Sunday March 23, 2008 @10:10AM (#22836508) Homepage Journal
    There was a perfect opportunity to provide wireless access for everyone... the Fed just auctioned off the very spectrum needed to make it a reality. What happened?

    Did anyone consider this? I know Google had mentioned it and it was a meme floating around that they might buy up the spectrum and offer *free* wifi everywhere, supported by ads of course... if the States or a collective of cities had gotten together and purchased the bandwidth, it really could have been free.

    Maybe I'm missing something? Was it not a great opportunity from a technical POV? or did all our local governments just drop the ball?

  • by CompMD ( 522020 ) on Sunday March 23, 2008 @03:05PM (#22838318)
    Its too bad that people don't learn from their own mistakes or the mistakes of others. Likewise, its even more of a shame that they do not learn from the successes of others.

    I live in Lawrence, Kansas [], and just about anywhere I go within the 28.7 square miles of city, I can get a wireless signal from our local wireless ISP, Lawrence Freenet []. The service is dramatically cheaper than the local cable company, and speeds are equivalent to DSL. There are routers on lightposts that you can communicate with either directly from your computer (if the signal is strong enough) or you can use a wireless bridge (which they rent and sell) to ensure a good connection. To top it off, you aren't fixed to one location with their service, you can take a laptop with you anywhere in the city, and if you see an access point, you can sign on. How much money did the city spend on this service? Zero. Nothing. This was completely financed by people who believed in it, and that is why it has been successful. With over 1300 current customers after only two years of existence, they are certainly doing things right.

    Oh, and I'm posting this from a laptop connected to a Lawrence Freenet access point.

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