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Bye-Bye Wi-Fi?

Bye-Bye Wi-Fi?

Orlando Kills Municipal Wi-Fi Project

David M. Ewalt, 06.23.05, Forbes.com

NEW YORK - No more free Web surfing for Mickey Mouse. The city of Orlando, Fla., has cancelled a pilot program that offered free wireless Internet access to visitors at a downtown park, saying that the service wasn't popular enough to justify the cost.

The cancellation may give fuel to opponents of municipal wireless deployments. But experts say it's likely a poor implementation, and that free wireless networks across the country, while few and far between, are usually successful, particularly when paired with a particular business interest or group of people who want to get online.

"I'm generally skeptical about free Wi-Fi, but I haven't seen a trend where these are getting turned off," says Yankee Group analyst Berge Ayvazian. "I'm a bit surprised that Orlando shut it down."

Orlando's downtown wireless district pilot project was launched in January 2004 and provided free Internet access to computer users in a downtown area including Lake Eola Park, Wall Street Plaza and parts of Orange Avenue. It was designed to support as many as 200 users at once, but only about 27 people a day were using it. City officials kept the system running for 17 months--long past the initially planned six-month trial period--but eventually concluded that low user rates didn't justify the $1,800 per month it took to keep the system running.

A spokesman for the city says they're going to explore other options about how to fund the network, including corporate sponsorships, and that it might bring the free network back at some point in the future.

Municipal wireless deployments can be big business for hardware vendors like Cisco Systems and Nortel Networks. But networks like Orlando's have come under attack from citizens who don't want tax dollars funding the projects, as well as from telecommunications providers who say the cities are competing with private enterprise.

Earlier this year Texas legislators introduced a bill to ban municipal networks, based on the assertion that state and local governments should be prevented from delivering telecommunications services. The bill died in committee in May. Similar bills have been proposed in Indiana and nearly a dozen other states. In December, the state of Pennsylvania actually passed a law that prevents cities from creating and charging money for municipal Wi-Fi if it competes with private businesses.

Wi-Fi isn't going away, but moves are afoot to make it illegal for municipal entities from "competing" with commercial service providers.

Darren Addy
Kearney, NE
Orlando has a special penchant for screwing things like this up, so don't take us too seriously. For starters, the free wireless 'net was never locally publicized to any truly serious degree. I live right by Lake Eola (Eola Park), and have never found a usable city wireless net there; nor in the other two downtown places mentioned. It's a actually easier to "borrow" wireless service from the police station (very close to Orange Ave.), which amusingly does not require a key. For the record, the areas mentioned above cover no more than about 4-5 blocks.
I think cell phone Internet links will kill off Wi-Fi except in hotels or in similar public places where the service is a selling bonus. Most of the new cell phones already have this feature.

Originally posted by Mike Johnson
I think cell phone Internet links will kill off Wi-Fi except in hotels or in similar public places where the service is a selling bonus. Most of the new cell phones already have this feature.

maybe in 5+ years.

I have net access on my phone too.
It sux.
Its slow.
And I'm very limited in the sites i can access.