Muni Wi-Fi Takes Another Blow

On Friday, Earthlink announced that it was done with the municipal Wi-Fi business, marking yet another blast of hot air leaking out of the muni Wi-Fi bubble. Wi-Fi guru Glenn Fleishman hit the nail on the head when he told the Seattle PI that “Big city Wi-Fi is dead.”

The technical and commercial realities of huge Wi-Fi rollouts across big cities were never going to live up to politicians’ promises, so it’s not a huge surprise to see Earthlink, a major player in these rollouts, give up. As Glenn notes, smaller-scale deployments are still working, but only under the right conditions — which don’t exist more often than not.

The fundamental issue here remains that Wi-Fi, as a technology, is ill-suited to this sort of wide-area rollout. But there could still a bright future for both municipal broadband and municipal wireless. Local governments have a wide array of useful applications for muni wireless, though they aren’t as sexy to voters as the promise of free citywide internet access. Clearwire, for instance, has partnered with at least one city on a muni WiMAX network, which could offer more utility and benefits than a muni Wi-Fi one. Watch this space, as localities look to get the technology right, and partners emerge to support them.

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