March 23, 2008

Wireless Cities: Paths Away from Bad Times

An article in The New York Times yesterday (3/22/08), “Hopes for Wireless Cities Fade as Internet Providers Pull Out” focuses on Philadelphia’s efforts to set up a municipal Wi-Fi grid in order to provide free or cheap wireless access to all residents. EarthLink has decided that “municipal Wi-Fi assets were no longer consistent with the company’s strategic direction,” or, in other words, making a profit. C-U’s own Sascha Meinrath, now at New America Foundation in DC, got it right when he said that municipal networks are truly sustainable when they are owned by the municipalities. “They can take into account benefits that help cities beyond private profit, including property value increases, education benefits and quality-of-life improvements that come with offering residents free wireless access.” As for those in Philadelphia who now find their Internet access jeopardized, one resident noted sadly, “For us and a lot of people in this neighborhood, the Internet is like a path out of here.” EarthLink’s corporate motto is, “We revolve around you.” It seems that prior to Earthlink CEO Garry Betty’s death from cancer at age 49 in 2007, Earthlink revolved around more people. Betty was a big promoter of municipal WiFi.

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