Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Is Municipal Wi-Fi A Right? If So, Who Pays?

ZDNet reports on "MuniWireless, a three-day conference in Santa Clara that began on Monday, was a gathering of venture capitalists, municipal authorities, nonprofit organizations, and software and hardware companies, all eager to bring city-wide wireless connections to the U.S.
Chris Sacca, principal of new business development for Google, likened the conference to the Democratic National Convention. "Whenever I talk to vendors in this space, I can't get a straight answer," Sacca said. "I can't get anyone to talk about the true capabilities of their products. It reminds me of the Democratic convention: You've got a lot of good guys working for a good cause but they get so caught up in their own business that they lose elections. So I'm going to ask everyone to remember why we're building these networks in the first place. I think it's a noble aim and I think everyone is here because they actually do care about promoting access."
"We don't have to sell them the idea that the Internet is important for them. They know that. They realize it has to do with healthcare, jobs and community engagement. Those are the issues that people want solutions for."
  • According to industry experts at the MuniWireless Silicon Valley conference, the new nomenclature is "digital inclusion."
  • The conversation was not about whether municipal wireless will become a reality – it was about when, how, and, most importantly, how much.
  • If there's no such thing as a free lunch, it is probably unreasonable to expect a free wireless connection. Somebody will have to pay for it -- and there was little agreement as to whom and how. Alec Ross, a panelist from One Economy, a broadband nonprofit organization, said that "low-income people will spend up to $20 per month on broadband."
  • Jonathan Baltuch, president of MRI, discussed the March 2006 launch of citywide wireless in St. Cloud, Florida, which he deemed a huge success. Over half of the households in St. Cloud are using the advertisement-supported network but still, this model has yet to be definitively proven, he said. Additionally, the big broadband providers such as AT&T, often referred to at the conference as "the incumbents," should not be expected to sit back and watch their market share leak away to free WiFi.

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