Blog Post

No More Free MuniFi for New Orleans

The municipal WiFi network in New Orleans has been the subject of a lot of debate. Clashes with incumbent carriers, a CIO that says he’ll go to jail to save the network, and then a deal with Earthlink to build a private Municipal wireless network. And that meant one thing – the city’s access to a free WiFi service had a short time to live. Perhaps as little as a few more months.

According to an article published last week in the New Orleans’ paper the Times-Picayune, the free public network will be taken down in favor of Earthlink’s subscriber based and temporarily free network. Though this may not have been widely publicized, the plan to transition to a paid network has been in the works for a while. Back in May Earthlink had told us that the free service on its network would only be temporary and that the city’s own network would likely be dismantled. New Orleans CIO Greg Meffert said back then that he hoped the free service would be available for as long as possible.

We spoke with Clifton Roscoe, the General Manager for Earthlink’s Municipal Networks in New Orleans, this morning and he said that the public network would be dismantled as soon as Earthlink’s network was up and running – hopefully by end of this year. It will cost Earthlink between $2 million to $3 million to build a network that covers a 20-square mile area.

When asked about how long the temporary free service would be offered, Roscoe said the company would revisit the decision in the second half of next year. So, probably only a few more months of free for New Orleans residents. Earthlink likely hopes that shutting down the city’s free WiFi service won’t hurt its attempts to bring in customers, though it is hard not to imagine negative feelings amongst the users of the free network.

“Our business model is a paid service,” says Roscoe, pointing out that the partnership with Google to unwire San Francisco is an exception. Earthlink needs the subscriber numbers to make back its investment in muniFi. Earthlink’s recent earnings show that the company gained 47,000 net broadband customers, and a third quarter loss of $3.2 million. No wonder free isn’t in the works.

13 Responses to “No More Free MuniFi for New Orleans”

  1. Exactly Om – we haven’t nailed dates. Seems to me that you guys are trying to make ‘new news’ out of ‘no news’ and ‘old news’. ‘No news’ – because there is nothing here. Katie is obviously just trying to get eyeballs to the site by connecting dots that aren’t even on the same page. ‘Old news’ – because this is exactly the language we’ve been using since May. Nothing new at all…except this reply of mine. That’s the only new aspect.

    We’ll revisit in nearly a year. Another way of being vague :-), but truthfully, we don’t have a date. We’ll take a look next year. Don’t know what ‘gotcha’ you are looking for in that…


  2. the wireless network sucked anyway. it covered downtown – sweet an area where businesses already have 100mbit connections to each workers desktop, and no there are surprisingly few tourists wandering around the french quarter with an imac, a neck full of beads and a 40.

    the network is nowhere to be sniffed in the reidential areas such as the garden district, uptown/audoban park/loyola/tulane/and further where there are high densities.

    fortunately there’s ton’s of open ap’s all over the place. i drive around that area and i never have to go more than a block before i connect and can skype/surf/email etc.

    earthlink: the same company that said they were going to build a 20m new headquarters in nola after katrina and then pulled it and sued the city instead for turning up their own wireless network. i’m sure your new and ‘cost effective’ wireless network will be great for the citizens of nola.

  3. Om: We said we aren’t revisiting the subject of the free tier until later next year. We can’t be any more clear than that. So, until that time comes – there is free Wi-Fi. Then, we’ll revisit it. No smoking gun here at all.

  4. A few more months? could be anywhere from two to twelve, though i find it strange that the company cannot say how long is this going to be available for free. If Earthlink has the details – why not just be clear?

  5. Nothing is free. Muni “free” wifi will go the way of the free internet dialup access – either find someone like advertisers to pay for it, or make users pay. The real question is: will wifi work for muni internet access? My answer is no: it will not penetrate buildings, it will get interference, it needs too many access points, it does not support high speed mobility, it will not be everywhere. You will likely see wifi in selected areas in future combined with some kind of wifi or cellular wireless data everywhere else.

  6. I think shutting down the existing municipal WiFi network in New Orleans is a good thing. I believe it was based on a security camera network that was opened to the public after Katrina. The sparse population of the city accessing the network at the time kept it up, but from people I’ve talked to who have tried to use it, signal strength could not even penetrate local businesses.