The troubles of the municipal Wi-Fi movement in general and Earthlink in particular are well documented, here and elsewhere. It is no great surprise that earlier this week the company notified the city of Philadelphia that it was halting municipal Wi-Fi services to that city on June 13.
The Wi-Fi Networking News' business is to follow this sector, so its reaction is worth a read. The writer notes that the Philadelphia project was the catalyst to the overall category in 2005. The initial concept was simple. The problems were that expenses were underestimated, commercial wireless offerings unexpectedly proliferated, and cable and DSL providers cut prices. The piece ends on a somewhat optimistic, if slightly forced, note suggesting that the explosion of sophisticated mobile devices and the growth of social networking may enable municipal Wi-Fi to create a market for itself.
Another recent Earthlink casualty was the network in New Orleans, which is scheduled to close May 17 after the vendor was unable to find anyone to buy it -- or even to take it over for free. The story says Earthlink networks in Corpus Christi, Texas, and Milpitas, Calif., are being transferred to municipal control, while the fate of the Anaheim network still is unclear.
Municipal Wi-Fi woes aren't limited to Earthlink or the U.S. The Sydney Morning Herald reports that the city has quietly decided to walk away from a plan to provide free services in the city's business district. The piece said that its evaluation of 15 proposals suggested that the project was not feasible from either a technical or financial viewpoint. (The writer seems indignant that the announcement was made on the day that six people were killed in a boating accident in Sydney Harbour and implies that the timing was an effort to generate as little note as possible.)
This commentary in a suburban Los Angeles newspaper seems to capture the current mood just about right. LA and Pasadena, the story says, have nixed municipal Wi-Fis. A project in West Covina was put on hold when the municipality decided not to carry $15 million of the $35 million "infrastructure" cost. The commentary says the need for such services is declining as commercial offerings become more common. The desire to bridge the digital divide is not a solid rationale either because folks who can afford a laptop computer are likely able to afford broadband connectivity.
The good news in all this is that the troubles of municipal wireless don't mean that towns and cities won't be covered. It simply means that the first model didn't work. Municipalities with better business plans or private companies -- such as Cablevision on Long Island, NY -- will ensure that nobody goes without wireless.