Philly Wi-Fi Experiment Goes Down in Flames

The poster child for municipal Wi-Fi in the United States, Philadelphia, is getting its plug pulled by service provider EarthLink, a development which underscores the difficulties government-based Wi-Fi is having in the U.S. and the problems service providers have turning a profit.

When EarthLink announced the Philadelphia deal four years ago, it was touted as the wave of the future in Wi-Fi. Sadly, like so much of technology hype, it failed to even come close to living up to those promises. EarthLink has scaled back its Wi-Fi building efforts, the municipal networks are proving more expensive than anticipated and the technology just didn't work very well. The notion was that government should play a role in guaranteeing the right to inexpensive Internet service to all, a concept roundly denounced by the private sector, especially the ISPs providing competing DSL, cable modem and dial-up Internet services.

The Philadelphia experiment proved such a debacle that it is likely to cause a scaleback in other municipal Wi-Fi efforts across the U.S. EarthLink alrady has shut down a similar effort in New Orleans. (The concept seems to have taken better root in Europe and Asia, perhaps because government subsidies often are involved.) This also suggests that faster WiMAX service, now touted as a future replacement for Wi-Fi, had best be left to the private sector if it stands a chance of commercial success.

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