Wi-Fi as a Public Utility: What are the Costs?

by on September 30, 2004

In a blog ealier this month, I mentioned how uneasy I was about municipal governments turning broadband or wi-fi into the next public utility, like local sewer or water service. There are many risks associated with such schemes, not the least of which is the potential for taxpayer bailouts when things go wrong.

Anyway, I just read a fine piece on this issue in MIT’s Technology Review entitled “Who Pays for Wireless Cities?” In particular, I would draw your attention to the excellent comments by Bill Frezza at the end of the story, with which I totally agree:

“The scenario is similar to that of the late 1980s, when municipalities considered offering cable TV services, recalls William Frezza, a general partner with Adams Capital Management in Cambridge, MA. Cable couldn’t survive as a low-cost public service, he says, and he finds public Wi-Fi equally misguided. He has read several dozen business plans from entrepreneurs looking to make money from public Wi-Fi. No model can succeed because the annual maintenance costs are likely to be exorbitant, he says. Moreover, he argues, performance will degrade as more users log on, which won’t necessarily stop municipalities from casting themselves as Wi-Fi service providers. “A town can make any argument it wants,” says Frezza. “It has as much money as it can pull out of its taxpayers.””

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