Cities have to bid bye-bye to free Wi-Fi
Ryan Kim, Chronicle Staff Writer
Thursday, June 12, 2008
The free municipal Wi-Fi dream appears to be coming to an end for a handful of Bay Area cities.
MetroFi, a Mountain View wireless provider that had built its business largely from advertising-supported Wi-Fi networks, is just over a week away from pulling the plug on its nine networks including Santa Clara, Sunnyvale, Cupertino, downtown San Jose, Foster City and Concord, part of a larger pullback due to a lack of revenue.
Last month, the company informed local users and the cities it operates in that the system will go dark as early as June 20. MetroFi is putting its assets up for sale and has reached out to cities and Internet service providers, hoping they might buy these local networks. So far, four of the Bay Area cities have turned MetroFi down, while Santa Clara and San Jose are still evaluating the offer. The cities are being asked to pay anywhere from $60,000 in San Jose to $408,000 in Concord for the equipment.
Unless a third-party provider swoops in to continue service, MetroFi will begin dismantling its networks, ending what has been for many cities a valuable service for residents and a nice technology badge of honor.
The retrenchment by MetroFi mirrors a general retreat by Wi-Fi companies that had hoped to offer wireless Internet service for free in many cities. Early municipal Wi-Fi advocate EarthLink, which pulled out of a planned San Francisco network, has also said it is ending its service in Philadelphia and New Orleans. Many projects, like those in Milpitas, are scaling back. San Francisco, meanwhile, is relying on the generosity of San Francisco Wi-Fi hardwaremaker Meraki, which is slowly building a free network across the city as a showcase for its technology.
...***** Moderator's Note *****
That's a shame: public WiFi was/is the only Internet access for many low-income families. I've written before about Mel King's efforts to provide WiFi in the South End of Boston, and I hope some "angel" funding can be found to save these networks.
Bill Horne Temporary Moderator
(Please put [Telecom] at the end of the subject line of your post, or I may never see it. Thanks!)