Municipal Wi-Fi Stalls, Market Surges Forward

Over the last two years, San Francisco has been in negotiations with Earthlink who, in partnership with Google, has had plans to build a Wi-Fi “cloud” over the 47 sq. mile geek-infested city. The goal, set out in 2005, was to blanket the city with 1,500 wireless hot-spots which would be accessible free of charge, supported by ads from Google. For those who wanted faster, ad-free service, a subscription fee could be paid.

Now rumors are circulating that Earthlink is pulling out of the deal, while the San Fran government is moving forward with a non-binding referendum in September that will presumably decide the fate of this boondoggle.

A San Francisco resident suffers under the incredible wealth of wireless in the city.
A San Francisco resident suffers under the incredible wealth of wireless in the city.

But San Franciscans needn’t worry. According to a 2005 paper by Steven Titch of the Heartland Institute the number of San Fran hot-spots that year was 396 (making it the #1 city in the country). The latest numbers show that number is now over 800–seems that hot-spots are following Moore’s law by doubling in 2 years!

With over 800 public hot-spots (halfway to Earthlink’s goal) already covering this 47 square mile area, why should the city give away special privileges to Earthlink for a city-wide build-out? The competitive marketplace is already taking care of spreading the wireless love around the city. Why not open up the city to more competition by easing right of way access, eliminating or cutting taxes associated with Wi-Fi installation, and opening exclusive franchising? Rather than looking backward and modeling themselves after past state-run follies, cities could take a leading role in increasing competition.