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Summary:

[qi:___wifi] New Yorkers, long used to getting free Wi-Fi Internet access in some of their bigger parks, will no longer enjoy the connectivity. WiFi Salon, a company that was offering free Wi-Fi in 10 parts of four New York City boroughs, shut down because of a […]

[qi:___wifi] New Yorkers, long used to getting free Wi-Fi Internet access in some of their bigger parks, will no longer enjoy the connectivity. WiFi Salon, a company that was offering free Wi-Fi in 10 parts of four New York City boroughs, shut down because of a lack of financing. The city is in budgetary doldrums and didn’t want to spend any money on free services. Marshall Brown, WiFi Salon’s founder, hasn’t given up on the dream and started a new company called Wired Towns that offers free Wi-Fi in partnership with Business Improvement Districts. Union Square is already up and running. Bryant Park still has a functioning (and free) Wi-Fi network. Glenn Fleishman, the Wi-Fi guru, shares his views and ponders on why the service got shut down.

The New York situation is not unique. Across the country, the aftershocks of the credit crunch are impacting municipal broadband projects. City- or municipality-wide broadband efforts depended on cities’ ability to sell bond to fund these projects. The booming economy allowed cities to garner extra tax revenues, which allowed them to easily raise the bonds to raise funds to spend on various projects — including MuniFi.

  1. [...] Salon, that offered free WiFi services has decided to shut down the reason being it’s short on financing. The shutdown means that New Yorkers wont be able to [...]

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  2. Can’t say I’ll miss the access in the parks, I could barely ever pick up anything useable in the parks. That said, I continue to be surprised by the overall lack of pubic access across the city.

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  3. @Bailey

    I wish we had that option in SF, where it is getting even more difficult to get free WiFi. On NYC and free WiFi access — i gotta be honest, you need to have free wifi access to be called a truly global city.

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  4. Om,

    I enjoy reading gigaom posts, esp. the ones concerning telecom. So, don’t take the following personal.

    I would like to know why you think free wifi access is a must for a great city such as NYC or SF.

    Free wi-fi you say, paid by taxpaxers or from some kind of fantastic fund? Maybe you want tourists to pay for your free access, collected by some great tourism-tax scheme, controled and managed by city IT managers or some great wi-fi operator like Metro-Fi? (Oh, I forgot… they closed shop last year). What is, according to you, a sustainable plan? Meraki won’t be able to do it, FON also not. Who then? Also, what if the costs for city-wifi is much more than the WISPs planned for?

    There is no way city-wide wi-fi would ever be an option in NYC, and ten hot-spots didn’t even account for a drop in the NYC ocean. I don’t know whether it’s allowed to shamelessly plug a link to my blog post about this, but in any case, if you want to receive a copy of my White Paper, “Disastrous Flaws in Present Broadband Wireless Access Deployment and Business Models”, take a look at my blog’s post of 27th October 2008. I will refrain from posting the link.

    In that document, page 30, we specify the real cost for a first-class NYC city-wide wi-fi network: $335 million. For SF $31 million, and $62 million for Philadelphia. And that is based on an insane oversubscription ratio of 1:60!

    We have been warning for disastrous models since 2005, then again in 2007, and again last year – each time through white papers.

    Take care,

    Neal Lachman

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  5. @Neal

    Thanks for the nice and intelligent comment. It is one of those strange things — i have started to work on a longish post which essentially was going to answer your questions. But now you have offered your whitepaper, I would love to take you up on that.

    I think there is merit to the idea of free wifi hot zones but that needs some planning and intelligence. the first model of muni was all wrong — it was coming at the problem from a different perspective.

    anyway lets continue the debate in a week or so when I finish my research.

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  6. Om,

    I like the idea of free WiFi hotzones, especially in cities where they are a lot of people walking around, trying to find things. Several cities that own their fiber network (and the public utility) have created municipal wireless networks that are used for municipal applications and public Internet access (in parks and playgrounds). In one municipality, Rock Hill (South Carolina), the free WiFi service in the park is very popular among parents who attend softball league matches. They can take photos and upload them immediately from the park.

    So why not build a network for many applications and use the excess capacity to deliver free WiFi? Of course, the city paid for the deployment and maintenance of the network but they use it themselves for wireless automated meter reading, monitoring of water and sewage treatment plants, wireless video surveillance and so on. Since the cities own their fiber, they don’t need to buy it from a Level 3 or Qwest. The people already paid for the network via their taxes, shouldn’t they also get a direct benefit in the form of free WiFi service in public areas, especially since the municipality has excess capacity anyway?

    The frustrating thing about SF is that the city has a lot of fiber in the ground, city-owed, but they are constrained from using it (guess by whom). SF taxpayers paid for this stuff and should enjoy the benefits of a robust wired + wireless network not just in the form of WiFi access but also in improved municipal services. It drives me crazy to see municipal workers still doing things the same old way, as if it were the 1970s. The city could save so much money by using a combination of fiber and wireless for their own workers.

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  7. Esme,

    As you know, I became a member of your Muni Wi-Fi group on Linkedin; I like to keep a tab on what’s going on. And just like GigaOm, I enjoy reading your blog too. In fact, the first source I mention in the article I am referring to below, comes from your distinguished blog.

    I am of the opinion that everything in a microcosm can be controlled and work like a charm. It doesn’t guarantee that it will work in larger environments. Hence me developing the world-shattering, heaven-shaking, mars-breaking “Law of Large Projects.”. ;)

    To answer the Muni-Wi-Fi and Community Fiber issue, I uploaded an (11-page!) answer on my blog, titled “Why it won’t Fly: Community Fiber & Muni Wi-Fi”.

    This post only concerns the politics and the market dynamics, and does not include the 35-page “disastrous models” white paper, wherein we give a clear view on what’s wrong in business and deployment models.

    Geez, it sounds like I don’t do anything else but nagging and writing analyses. Oh well, I hope you will enjoy my write-up, although I highly doubt it! ;)

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  8. [...] Why it Won’t Fly: Community Fiber & Muni Wi-Fi  The following is taken from our Strategy, Business Development, Marketing & Position Plan, which we plan to release next week. PLEASE NOTE: this section of the document only concerns a feasibility analysis and commentary by GigaSpeed on the FTTH & BWA market dynamics and uncertainties on a political level. The rest of the document is not yet released. I uploaded this piece because of the dialogue going on at Om Malik’s GigaOm blog.  [...]

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  9. WIFI salon is using Altai Stuff. I wonder how they will treat their equipment. Can I buy them lol?

    Wired Town sounds a little bit weird to me. After browsing their site, they are just the same stuff…name changed, nothing changed.

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  10. We speak to cities regularly, and every time we hear the city wants to give “free wi-fi” to every man, woman and child in their city, we duck. The better one is, “it will pay for itself in advertising dollars!” This article clearly shows that nothing free will last. And, it doesn’t have to be.

    With all the new 3G phones out there, City Wireless projects are making more sense, as long as the citizen realizes that it will cost him an annual fee of $100 bucks or some odd amount. No one who can afford an new IPhone will care, and will be rockin’ one speedy device. People just want good service.

    Most cities don’t have leaders with the foresight to understand the demand of the community for these necessary systems. The ones who do will be popular with my kids…
    Bobby Vassallo

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    1. Michael D. Vessey Thursday, June 18, 2009

      Bobby Vassallo is correct in that demand for public WiFi. He is the leading consultant, World-wide for municipal WiFi projects. Every old lady renewing and upgrading a phone from now on will be getting a 3G-4G phone. Demand on Cell cites will be enormous. Without public WiFi taking the pressure off the cell companies’ antennas, it will be hard to make a voice call. Do people still do that?

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    2. Michael D. Vessey Thursday, June 18, 2009

      Bobby Vassallo is correct in that demand for public WiFi. He should know as the leading consultant World-wide for municipal WiFi projects. I know of several projects City Wireless Consulting has done.

      Every old lady renewing or upgrading a cell phone from now on will be getting a 3G-4G phone. Demand on Cell cites will be enormous in another year or so. Without public WiFi taking the pressure off the cell companies’ antennas, it will be hard to make a voice call. Do people still do that?

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