By Mari Silbey
Posting in Cities
After seven years and more than $50 million, Seattle shuts down its free Wi-Fi network. Why is municipal broadband so hard?
Proving again that most municipal Wi-Fi efforts end in disaster, the city of Seattle ended its wireless experiment at the end of April after seven years of trying to make free broadband work. An announcement on the city’s website proclaimed:
The SeattleWiFi free community wireless service will be discontinued on April 29, 2012. The pilot project has been serving the University District, Columbia City and four downtown parks (Steinbrueck, Occidental, Freeway, and Westlake) since 2005. The service, provided in collaboration with the UW and neighborhood chambers of commerce, has been well-used and especially in Columbia City, helped contribute to the areas’ revitalization. The City would encourage other providers or sponsors to consider supporting free Wi-Fi service in these areas and other neighborhood business districts.
Seattle is only the latest in a string of cities to fail at delivering free Wi-Fi. Although many of these municipal projects began with great promise, a combination of network difficulties, failed management, and opposition from local Internet providers has served to doomed most.
In Seattle’s case, the city claims the cost of maintaining network equipment was ultimately too high. When I lived near Philadelphia, the main issue was a problem with outsourced management to Earthlink, which ended up backing out of the municipal Wi-Fi business entirely. In Philadelphia, however, the muni Wi-Fi effort also ran into resistance from local Internet service providers (ISPs). Comcast in particular is headquartered in downtown Philadelphia, and it saw the wireless venture as a competitive threat. Comcast wasn’t responsible for mothballing the Philadelphia project – which is still stuck in limbo to this day – but it did succeed in working with Verizon to push Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell to pass a new statewide law on the municipal Wi-Fi issue. With the exception of Philadelphia, cities in Pennsylvania are now required to give local ISPs right of first refusal in bids to supply high-speed Internet service.
Going back to Seattle, apparently the plan now is to sell off excess fiber capacity to help recoup costs. According to The Seattle Times, the city spent more than $50 million on the network it is now discarding.
On a more positive note, contrast the Seattle or Philadelphia situation with Chattanooga, Tennessee. Chattanooga developed a business case for community-owned broadband and has succeeded in building out a fiber network with Internet speeds up to one gigabit per second. That’s muni broadband done the right way, and it suggests that Chattanooga has a lot to teach other cities about network deployment. Maybe Seattle officials should take a field trip south.
May 8, 2012
That the government is usually not the best mechanism to provide something to the people. To think it can is the arrogance of the ruling class and the intelligentsia that are ruining the US. The mismanagement, cost over runs, poor technical designs, foggy goals and everything else wrong with this project are at the heart of what is wrong with big government projects. In the end a bunch of politicians, their family, friends and political supporters made a lot of money off this and the taxpayers got another expensive white elephant.
Have you been to the Pacific Northwest? There's a coffee shop on nearly every urban block, and some have multiple cafes. Each of them have free WiFi, as do several bookstores and eateries. It's really not hard to find free WiFi. For a very short time in Portland, there was municipal WiFi, but it floundered. Part of the problem was the sheer cost of blanketing every block with a proper signal which the contractor severely underestimated. And then dealing with the network traffic was a nightmare...it was so slow, it wasn't worth bothering with.
Why isn't there others that think like you? I do! You are right on and now I don't have to read any other comments. You know the idiots will never go away and the worst of them is the ruling class idiots. Everything one can honestly identify as wrong in country is a reflection of these idiots that create the problems then blame those with an opposite view. Remember this, the only way you can piss off a liberal is to act like one. Good Luck My Friend
People in both parties make money when the government spends money to fix nonexistent problems. I know dozens of people on both sides that I view as the ruling class. If my observation offends you it might be because you are a member of the groups mentioned. To blindly support one party just makes you a drone in their army of intellectual and political zombies doing their masters bidding. Back on subject, the lack of free Wi-Fi in Seattle was not an issue until some politicians made campaign promises to provide it. It is one of many promises made every campaign cycle to address non-issues just to buy votes. This is the path Greece went down and look at the mess they are in.
Your automatic reference to elitists being only on the right and liberals only being on the left means you are in denial over the real world. You have bought into the US/ THEM menatality the parties like to foster. Just off the top of my head I can think of some very prominent Massachusetts democrat elitists who feel they are entitled to run the government just because they are better than the rest of us. I have personally met most of these. John Kerry, Joe (Joe for oil) Kennedy ( actually any Kennedy since RFK is not worth a damn), Niki Tsongas (her late husband was a much better person than she ever will be), Elizabeth Warren, Barney Frank, Marty Meehan, and the list goes on. Even Mumbles Menino, the mayor of Boston, who is a nice guy I spoke to just a few days ago, on matters of politics and what is best for the city he makes it clear that only he knows what is best. Locally they are known as limonene liberals. They are people who make money off keeping a large segment of the population poor and dependent on the government to survive. They are not interested in solutions to problems. They are only interested in providing a need. They also make their friends and family wealthy providing the services they feel the people need. I will bet you did not know that Joe (Joe for oil) Kennedy and his wife make a combined $750,000 a year working for Citizens Oil. Something that he advertises as if he is doing as charity work for free. There are hundreds of local democrat politicians just in Massachusetts I could name that fall into the elitists category. Among these big fish in little ponds, many of them are 2nd and 3rd generation rulers of their little ponds. They flash their ivy league diplomas and belittle anyone who challenges their thinking of what is best for the world.
Sometimes it's not wrong to think there's two sides or two parties and the frustration can mesh them. Let's just say there's two sides. The left is always liberal. Then you the elite on the right who act like they're intelligent only to the want a bes and do-gooders. These feel-good power hungry politicians think they know better and are just liberals in disguise. In the end all the bad ideas in the establishment always fall in line with the general views of the ignorant liberal.