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Blog

    Newsflash: Muni-Wifi not Free

    02/27/2006

    In a study promulgated by an advocate of muni-wifi, the author interviews representatives of 13 cities that have experimented with muni-wifi. He reaches a genuinely surprised conclusion:

    Most of the 13 people interviewed for this report will tell you that nothing’s free with municipal wireless. Someone at some point in time is going to have to pay something for this network. Some of the price will be monetary, while part of the price could be missed opportunities and unintended consequences if people don’t take more time as well as stop trying to get something for nothing.

    What you’ll find out from those interviewed is:

    - put too much emphasis on free during the vendor search, you’ll scare away what might be your best options for a quality network;
    - all this talk about free can raise expectations among citizens that can’t be met;
    - it’s free, what do they have to complain about” is a perception that will lead to needless headaches, rude awakenings and a possible regime change at City Hall;
    - over emphasis on free can lead to inferior networks, inadequate maintenance and technology obsolescence;
    - a hands-off approach to vendor relationships leads to hands-on aggravation when stuff hits the fan;
    - don’t pay attention to the financial well-being of your vendors, bad things can happen;
    - “free now, pay later” brings out the worst in some politicians.

    The last point is intruiging, but it gets the causality backwards. It's not that muni-wifi brings out the worst in politicians. It's that the worst in politicians brings out muni-wifi.