Muni WiFi: From sizzle to fizzle

Remember when municipal WiFi networks were all the rage? Every city had to have one, and companies such as Google, Earthlink, MetroFi and others were lining up to bid on the opportunity to build and manage them. Traditional wireline firms like telcos and cable TV companies looked left out of the game, as they complained about municipalities competing with them, and in some cases sought to block the build-outs. Also, with many municipal WiFi networks poised to offer free broadband access and VoIP roaming, the threat seemed all too real.

Now, "MuniFi," is a reality in almost 400 cities nationwide, but with wildy variable results, and several municipalities have cancelled planned projects. The problems: Usage is low in many cases, scalability has been a challenge, devices and capabilities have been found to be wanting and business models promising free community access have proven not to be be viable, for the most part.

Who benefits? Those telcos and cable TV companies that seemed to lack imagination a couple years ago, and have since honed their own broadband services, giving more people reasons to stay online at high speed in the comfort of their own homes.

For a balanced look at Muni WiFi issues:
- read Carol Wilson's four-part series in Telephony
- Om Malik's take is here on his blog at GigaOM

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