Problems in (Muni Wi-Fi) Paradise

by on October 19, 2006

I am shocked (shocked!) to hear that politics is interfering with Google and EarthLink’s muni wi-fi plans in San Fran. On his blog, Davis Freeberg discusses how a bunch of San Fran “nuts and fruits” (his term, not mine) have turned out at planning meetings to make silly demands of Google and EarthLink before they are allowed to launch service:

“Some of the crazier demands that were suggested at the meeting included a “requirement” for every San Francisco renter to sign a lease addendum with their landlords before being allowed to install a WiFi card in their PC, forcing Google to agree to transport kids back and forth to the Zoo in their Google busses and a requirement for EarthLink to pay the electrical costs for running computers in order to prevent brownouts.

… Despite the announcement made last April free WiFi instead has turned out to be vaporware thus far with Google and Earthlink discovering that dealing with the local San Francisco political scene is about as fun as being set up on a blind date with Mike Tyson after being rubbed down in meat sauce.”

Over at TechDirt, Mike has more coverage of the unfolding fiasco. And the latest issue of MIT Technology Review includes a story by Mark Williams on the San Fran wi-fi follies entitled “Golden Gate Lark.” I found the concluding paragraph of his report particularly interesting because it goes beyond politics and gets to the real reason I think most muni wi-fi projects are doomed to fail–they will probably be obsolete before they are even launched:

“In January 2005, the city of Orlando pulled the plug on its free downtown Wi-Fi service because only 27 people a day were accessing it, at a cost to the city of $1,800 a month, according to the Orlando Sentinel. Though San Francisco’s potential network might be larger, that only makes questions of design more urgent: the city could discover too late that its network was too expensive, too spotty, or already dated.”

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