The Independent Weekly has a great article by Fiona Morgan called Carol Ellison: MuniWireless.com analyst on Chapel Hill’s free Wi-Fi. Its a short interview discussing Chapel Hill’s involvement with public wifi. Here is the most important part to me.
Carol Ellison –
I would be very surprised if Chapel Hill encountered any of the problems those larger cities have because they’re using a different model altogether. Chapel Hill is deploying one hotspot and then another. They’re not saying this is going to be citywide. They’re taking a very measured approach, as opposed to diving in and promising service to everyone. Secondly, the town is going to own the network, whereas in San Francisco and in Chicago, the private provider would have owned the network. San Francisco was working out the provisions of a contract with EarthLink at the time that EarthLink announced massive layoffs and the fact that it was retreating from the market, and Chicago was negotiating with EarthLink as well as AT&T. So both cities were really at the mercy of what the private provider was going to do. I’m impressed by what Chapel Hill’s doing because they’re really in control of their own fate. If for whatever reason things don’t work out with Clearwire, they could find another provider and it’s still their network.
This is important because it counters many other articles in the media that have been arguing the other side of this. That municipal Wifi is somehow a bad idea because these huge projects failed in Chicago and San Francisco. They failed because a big company called Earthlink is having serious business problems. These kind of problems are EXACTLY why we need public ownership of major resources like broadband. Which WiFi is but one.
I applaud the Town of Chapel Hill for being careful in their investigation of implementing WiFi. We can learn from the mistakes of others. Isn’t that what wise Towns should do?