Commentary

Philly To Keep Wi-Fi Network

Philadelphia's deal for Wi-Fi from Earthlink collapsed a while ago, but the city will keep its free wireless broadband service. Today, a group of local business executives said they are prepared to operate the network, rescuing it from a shutdown, according toThe Philadelphia Inquirer.

The consortium plans to offer free Wi-Fi in all portions of the city where Earthlink had built out a wireless network. It will also explore whether to support the service with ads. Previously, Earthlink charged subscribers $20 a month.

The group also said it intends to expand the service so that it covers the entire city. Earthlink's network encompassed only around 20-30 percent, according to the Inquirer.

This announcement comes at a time when ad-supported municipal Wi-Fi appears to be in decline. The San Francisco Chroniclereported last week that municipal Wi-Fi networks have either shuttered or are on the verge of closing down throughout the area. MetroFi, which offered ad-supported wireless, was poised to shut networks in Santa Clara, Sunnyvale, Cupertino, downtown San Jose, Foster City and Concord, the Chronicle reported. The company reportedly found that ads and subscription fees didn't cover costs.

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This change marks a big turnaround from several years ago, when companies were chomping at the bit to build out municipal Wi-Fi networks. But that makes sense, given how much has changed in the last few years. These days, even if entire cities don't have Wi-Fi, wireless broadband access has become ubiquitous in coffee shops, hotels and other places where people tend to bring laptops. When users are able to go to their nearest Starbucks and get two hours of free broadband access each day, it doesn't seem likely that cities will view municipal Wi-Fi as an urgent priority.

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