Muni Wifi: The Monorails of the Decade?

Skepticism about municipal wifi is growing again, and this time it’s more than just technologists and policy wonks. Now we have people inside recent roll-outs who aren’t happy with the results, prices — and I did I mention incumbent broadband providers are also responding?

Across the United States, many cities are finding their Wi-Fi
projects costing more and drawing less interest than expected, leading
to worries that a number will fail, resulting in millions of dollars in
wasted tax dollars or grants when there had been roads to build and
crime to fight.

More than $230 million was spent in the United States last year, and
the industry Web site MuniWireless projects $460 million will be spent
in 2007.

Without revenues they had counted on to offset that spending,
elected officials might have to break promises or find money in
already-tight budgets to subsidize the systems for the low-income
families and city workers who depend on the access. Cities might end up
running the systems if companies abandon networks they had built.

The worries come as big cities like Philadelphia and Portland, Ore., complete pilots and expand their much-hyped networks.

“They are the monorails of this decade: the wrong technology,
totally overpromised and completely undelivered,” said Anthony
Townsend, research director at the Institute for the Future, a think


  1. The Muni Wi-Fi Song – with apologies to The Simpsons