Earthlink has been forced to scale back its plans for municipal Wi-Fi in at least two cities, San Francisco and Houston. After forging a deal with Philadelphia in which the city became Earthlink's first municipal Wi-Fi project, Earthlink has had to change its position on negotiations with other cities, insisting that the cities become "anchor tenants," using the Wi-Fi for projects like parking meters and mobilizing city workers. Some places, like Houston, might be able to make such a deal, but for cities like Chicago, which already has existing wireless infrastructure for city use, such deals will not be feasible. In fact, it appears that some cities' dreams of "free" municipal Wi-Fi will never come to fruition.
Earthlink just paid Houston a $5 million penalty for failing to begin the infrastructure build on time. This gives Houston the opportunity to look at other vendors while Earthlink uses its nine month window to decide whether to fulfil its contract, which calls for Houston to pay $500,000 per year as the "anchor tenant" in the system that would cover the 640 square mile city. Earthlink also recently announced that they would be laying off nearly half of their workforce, over 900 employees, as part of a restructuring effort to reduce the $79 to $109 million dollar loss they are expected to take in 2007. Earthlink launched its first muni Wi-Fi project in June in Anaheim, California, a system that will eventually consist of 1500 access points.
EarthLink to pay city $5M for missed deadline (Houston Chronicle)
EarthLink CEO Devoted To Muni Wi-Fi And Helio (Information Week)
EarthLink's First Muni Wi-Fi Launches (Wi-Fi Planet)
I like the idea of municipal Wi-Fi, particularly since the stated costs to the consumer of the only system in place (Anaheim) is $17.95 for the first three months and $22 per month afterwards for a 1 Mbps download speed. That is a pretty reasonable price for someone too far from the CO for DSL and unwilling to pay the $50 per month for cable modem.
Have you heard about Wi-Fi projects in your municipality? Would you welcome (or use) such a system if it were implemented?