The concept of municipal Internet access remains good: blanket a town with wireless coverage, use it for emergency and other city services, and support the system with public access – paid, ad-supported, or a combination of the two.
The actual implementations of muni Wi-Fi? Eh.
Within the past week, negotiations to establish municipal Wi-Fi systems between EarthLink and both Chicago and San Francisco collapsed. In the former case, it was reportedly the city that balked, in the latter, it was reportedly Earthlink that threw in the towel.
Companies like Earthlink and smaller MetroFi originally thought metro Wi-Fi would be so popular they could offer to set up a city basically for free (free to the city, that is), and live off the subsequent commercial proceeds.
Didn't happen, for a number of reasons, and one of the worst was that the commercial service provided is not all that good. People who do public surfing are in the habit of doing it in airports, hotels, and cafes, and all those places already have Wi-Fi, often for free.
The signals of muni Wi-Fi systems that are up and running tend to not make it through walls, frustrating those inclined to use it anywhere else indoors, where things useful for supporting Web access, such as desks and tables and power outlets and suitably subtle lighting, tend to be.
Access is a shared resource, and if a lot of people are sharing it, the experience gets even more frustrating. Other cities that have muni-fi systems, including Taipei, Philadelphia, New Orleans, and Tempe, Ariz., have reported severely disappointing subscriber/user statistics.
To compensate, EarthLink and MetroFi now ask cities to pay for their access. Portland, Ore., for one, agreed to do that (with MetroFi), and while there's a discernible lack of excitement about muni-Fi in that city, the system remains extant, suggesting that that particular model might be workable.
Chicago and San Francisco have balked at signing similar "anchor tenant" agreements, however.
Earthlink in its Q2 earnings statement suggested that municipal Wi-Fi is a growth area that may get further investment, but the company also posted a second quarter loss and cut half its staff, its woes traceable in no small measure to what the company reportedly acknowledges as the questionable viability of
muni-Fi – at least when lacking a municipal "anchor tenant."
And so municipal wi-fi is sputtering. When it comes to Wi-Fi, municipal munificence does not seem to make muni-fi sense or muni-fi cents after all. But I digress...
Too bad. But what with 3G networks up and running, and 4G networks on the horizon, and companies like Clearwire and Sprint set to cover the country with WiMAX, and maybe Google bidding for 700 MHz spectrum and doing something or other with it, there may be other municipal access options. The technology might be different, and the business models may evolve, but the concept remains attractive.
|Brian Santo, IP Capsule Editor & CED Magazine Editor
IPTV box startup claims a customer
The AccessKey Home unit
Startup AccessKey IP claims to have signed a letter of intent (LOI) to help develop an advanced IPTV set-top box with a company it would identify only as "a significant U.S. based organization in the IPTV (Internet Protocol Television) sector."
The vendor has designed what it calls a set-top that others might consider more akin to a gateway box.
AccessKey IP's unidentified customer will contribute $1.5 million in development funding. AccessKey IP plans to complete development and begin initial deliveries of the STB technology in early 2008, according to company president Rich Lauer.
George Stevens, chairman and CEO of AccessKey IP, said, "While AccessKey IP obviously doesn't have the market presence of industry giants like Motorola or Cisco, we are actually more capable of delivering highly engineered, high value-add solutions for specific customer requirements. In reality, the IPTV market is so large even a small piece can make our firm enormously successful."
Verizon to expand DSL in Maine
Verizon has agreed with the Public Advocate's office in Maine to extend the reach of DSL in that state at least by the time it finishes selling its operations in Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont to Fairpoint Communications.
Verizon will update over 20 of its central offices and 70 remote terminals, covering an estimated 35,000 of the company's lines in the state. That will mean 131 of Verizon's 138 COs will be upgraded. Verizon estimates the upgrades will cost $12 million.
Verizon thus avoids having to roll out FiOS in the sparsely-populated northeast corner of the U.S.
CableLabs strikes deal for DTCP-IP content protection
Cablelabs said it had given its approval to the DTCP-IP technology for protection of cable content using Internet Protocol for unidirectional and bidirectional digital cable offerings.
Using DTCP (Digital Transmission Copy Protection)-protected secure links among consumer electronics devices, cable subscribers will be able to access digital cable programming, including high-definition and VOD cable content, on consumer electronics devices and personal computers on their digital home networks.
DTLA, which was formed in 1998 by Hitachi, Intel, Panasonic, Sony and Toshiba. CableLabs previously had approved DTCP for protection of content over the IEEE 1394 interface.
EarthLink cuts 900 jobs
EarthLink said it was cutting 900 jobs, roughly half of its workforce, and close offices in several cities. The company expects the associated costs will run about $60 million to $70 million, to be logged in the subsequent two quarters, but estimates the moves may save between $25 million and $35 million this year.
Cablevision Ethernet service targets media market
Cablevision Systems' Optimum Lightpath operation has begun a new transport service aimed directly at any business that needs to transmit broadcast-quality video .Called Broadcast Video Transport (BVT), the service carries video on Optimum Lightpath's Metro Ethernet network. It is aimed at media companies, including production facilities, broadcasters, television stations, content distributors and enterprises that have high-resolution broadcast quality video requirements.
Company: Zayo Bandwidth
CEO: Dan Caruso
Claim to Fame: The founders have attracted significant financial backing to buy small, regional fiber-based networks and combine them into a larger entity.
Recent News of Note: Signed an agreement to buy Indiana Fiber Works (IFW), in Indianapolis, Ind. In the past month, Zayo completed the acquisition of two other networks and announced the pending acquisition of a third. The combination of the four networks will give Zayo a reach that extends through parts of the Northeast, Tennessee, Indiana, and Minnesota; it will represent $125 million of annual revenue and 8,400 route.