Remember when municipal wi-fi was going to be the magic, free/cheap Internet option that would let you fire your cable or DSL provider for good? Remember when Microsoft (MSFT) jumped into the mix, sponsoring a free network in Portland to make sure Google (GOOG) didn’t get too much of a leg up in the nascent industry? Remember?
If you do, you may also recall that the revolution never moved past the initial hype: A few years after the boom, most big plans have either been scrapped or overhauled.
So what are those 600 antennas in Portland up to today, now that Microsoft’s infrastructure partner MetroFi has gone belly-up? Collecting dust, and probably sheltering some pigeons, while the city waits for MetroFi to legally forfeit the gear next April. And after that, the city will probably take them down. From The Oregonian’s Mike Rogoway, via Broadband Reports:
MetroFi’s 600 abandoned Wi-Fi antennas will stay up at least through April 2009, as the city waits for the gear to be legally forfeit.
State law gives Portland the option to take ownership one year after they are abandoned, according to city technology staffer Logan Kleier. Portland officials date that to last April, when they sent a breach-of-contract letter to MetroFi (which had stopped building out the network).
The Sky Pilot-brand antennas themselves appear secure on their lightposts and streetlights, Logan told me, at least for now. So he said the city’s going to bide its time until California-based MetroFi has legally lost any claim to the equipment.
At that point, he said, the city will probably start dismantling the antennas — and try to recoup the cost of doing so from whatever is left of MetroFi (the company’s Web site is offline, its phones are dead, and CEO Chuck Haas hasn’t returned my calls to his cell phone in months).
One large-scale wi-fi project that does make sense: The hotspots that Cablevision (CVC) is building out in NY, NJ and Connecticut to offer its cable Internet subscribers “roaming” access while they’re at a restaurant, waiting for a train, etc.