The Times has finally run an elegy for municipal wi-fi networks, mostly rehashing facts we’ve known since last fall: Many ambitious citywide free/”affordable” Internet access projects haven’t panned out because of technology hurdles, lousy marketing, and losing business plans. Just as important: The more phone and cable companies lower their prices, the less worthwhile a city-subsidized plan seems.
So is the dream of “wireless cities” fading, as the Times‘ headline purports? Hardly. Massive-scale, citywide wi-fi projects might be a bust, but Wired’s handy map mashup from last month shows that 116 U.S. cities/towns have smaller-scale municipal wi-fi projects, and dozens more are under construction or in development. There are also plenty of free urban hotspots up and running where they make sense, like NYCwireless’s hotspots in several New York parks, and CBS’s (CBS) free, promotional wi-fi network in Midtown Manhattan.
Meanwhile, some big Internet providers are making their residential Internet offerings more attractive with wireless bonuses: AT&T (T) is offering most of its residential broadband subscribers free wi-fi access at its network of 10,000 hotspots, like Starbucks (SBUX) stores, McDonald’s (MCD) restaurants, and Barnes & Noble (BKS) bookstores. And Time Warner Cable (TWC) signed a deal last year to let its cable modem subscribers participate in a free wi-fi sharing project called “FON.”