Population Statistic: Read. React. Repeat.
Friday, August 31, 2021

A browse through this blog’s Wi-Fi category reveals a preoccupation by yours truly of municipal efforts to erect wireless Internet networks.

I may not be thus preoccupied much longer: Earthlink, AT&T and other providers are balking at further build-outs even in underway projects, citing low usage and lack of city funding.

When EarthLink and MetroFi first bid for Wi-Fi contracts several years ago, they often agreed to foot the bill for network build-out, operations, maintenance, and upgrades. They also frequently agreed to pay cities to lease public facilities, such as light poles, to hold Wi-Fi transmitters. If that wasn’t enough, the companies also promised some cities a chunk of their subscription and advertising revenues, as well as free usage of the Wi-Fi networks by city workers. EarthLink’s troubled San Francisco contract, for example, contains many of these terms.

One major flaw in these arrangements has been that initial forecasts for Wi-Fi subscriptions used to justify the investment in these networks have proven to be overly optimistic by a wide margin. In many cases, 15% to 30% of an area’s population was expected to sign up for muni Wi-Fi. But only 1% to 2% have signed up so far figures Glenn Fleishman, editor of an industry blog called Wifinetnews.com.

While rising demand for advertising on municipal Wi-Fi networks is helping offset the shortfall in subscription revenue, there’s a catch-22 at play here: Higher user numbers might generate more ad revenue, but network operators might need to cut fees to attract more users.

Is it realistic to push through enough ad inventory during the average few minutes someone is accessing the network? To me, free public wi-fi hotspots are good for spot-checking the Web: Check your email, check your blog, look up movie times, get local maps/directions, etc. That’s it. It’s not for lounging for a couple of hours of Web surfing. Battery life alone is an obstacle to that. A typical online media model for advertising doesn’t make much sense.

I’d still love to see a more widespread use of free wi-fi, for always-on access (independent of cellphone networks and the like). Maybe there’s a workaround no one’s dreamed up yet.

by Costa Tsiokos, Fri 08/31/2007 02:29:37 PM
Category: Wi-Fi | Permalink |

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