Reality Bites Muni WiFi

Activists question 'backroom' deals for citywide mesh networks

June 15, 2006

2 Min Read
Reality Bites Muni WiFi

5:15 PM -- As we've been predicting around here, reality is starting to catch up with the muni-WiFi hype. Newsweek online ran a story last week using the well known example of St. Cloud, Fla., to show what can go wrong in the deployment of a citywide mesh network, concluding that "even advocates admit the technology may not be ready for such large-scale use and caution that expectations for cheap broadband access to the Net may be climbing to unreasonable levels."

Sending along this citation, Kimo Crossman -- a San Francisco programmer who has become one of the leading gadflies on what he calls that city's "backroom" deal with EarthLink Inc. (Nasdaq: ELNK) and Google (Nasdaq: GOOG) for a muni network -- comments that "the Indoor coverage issue is bigger than acknowledged.

"If outdoors-based muni WiFi is going to be ad-supported then one needs eyeballs," Crossman continues, "[and] where do people use their computers the large majority of the time? OOPS Indoors."

Written by Brad Stone, the Newsweek story cites the example of Philadelphia college student Jennifer Perez, who "happens to live in one of the three neighborhoods where the city conducted trials of its [wireless mesh] network last year."

Only problem? The connection doesn't reach into Perez's apartment -- so she has to go outside to her nearby park to get online.

"Who wants to check their email in their PJ's in the middle of the night by taking their laptop outside and standing under a lightpole?" asks Crossman.

Some hiccups and dashed expectations are natural for a newly deployed technology like mesh networking, but because city and county governments are rushing forward, lemming-like, to roll out these systems, you can expect things in some locales to quickly get political. And nasty.

— Richard Martin, Senior Editor, Unstrung

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