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February 23, 2006
No Such Thing as Free WiFi
Earthlink is busy turning all those dreams of free municipal WiFi into broken promises.
Both the municipal deal they signed in Philly and the one they’ve joined in San Francisco (with Google) carry user price tags. In Philly they say they will re-sell capacity to other ISPs for just $9 per user per month. In San Francisco the plan is to give away 300 Kbps links, but charge $20/month for true ADSL-like speeds.
I’m of two minds on this. Let me talk out of both sides of my mouth for a moment:
- Earthlink is betting the company on this new way of doing business. The San Francisco investment alone is estimated at $25 million. They have to get their money out somehow. And they have to gain some control of infrastructure in order to stay in business, now that the Bells and cable guys have gotten Bushie permission to monopolize the rate-payers’ infrastructure.
- On the other hand what happened to free? And how can the cities promise any exclusivity in these deals? They don’t have any more right to the frequencies than Google. Why should taxpayers let them offer exclusive access to traffic lights and other city-owned infrastructure, and grant an “exclusive” cloud license to anyone?
WiFi is not like a wire or a cable. It is unlicensed spectrum, subject only to power limits set by the FCC. No one should be allowed to monopolize it, not on a national basis, not on a city-wide basis.
On the other hand Earthlink is making major investments, and deserves a chance to come out whole. Not a guarantee – a chance.
What if the exclusivity had a sunset date?
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