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Metro WiFi inherently governmental?

Interesting post on Good Morning Silicon Valley today...

Who, what, where, when and WiFi

So what's it going to be for municipal wireless broadband -- public utility or commercial commodity? With Philadelphia reviewing final bids and San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom's recent pledge of access for all, the debate is quickly becoming more urgent, and the arguments are as much about political philosophy as technology.

Mike Langberg of the Mercury News sums up the tech doubts: "Municipal wireless systems are turning into this year's tech bubble, with manufacturers making lots of promises and boosters glossing over numerous engineering hurdles. Delivering Internet service is much more complicated than piping in tap water or picking up garbage, and cities could easily get overwhelmed with unproven equipment." Sonia Arrison of TechNewsWorld warns against "the DMV-ization of broadband" and says the economics favor private industry: "If City Hall can barely afford to provide residents the critical services that matter most, such as police, fire protection, and public transportation, why would anyone think it will be able to maintain a high-quality, cutting-edge broadband network?"

However it shakes out, the tech giants know this will eventually be a big thing and they are nosing determinedly at the edge of the tent. Intel announced Thursday that it has been working with 13 cities around the world on municipal WiFi under a program called Intel Digital Communities. For now, the projects have focused on systems to improve communication among city employees and between city agencies and the public, but the program gives Intel (and backers like Cisco, Dell, IBM and SAP) an inside track should large-scale municipal access plans develop.

JupiterResarch analyst Julie Ask says cities with wireless ambitions will still have a selling job to do: "Communities are going to have a hard time persuading their constituents that bridging the digital divide or free Wi-Fi on Main Street are worthwhile uses of tax dollars. However, when you mix in a long list of benefits -- some quantifiable and some more qualitative -- it's a lot easier to get to the point where folks think, 'Yeah, this makes sense.' "

We'll have a story on this in the Aug. 29 issue.

Posted by Christopher Dorobek on Aug 19, 2005 at 12:14 PM


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