Wireless requires a business plan

Submitted by acohill on Wed, 04/16/2008 - 08:10

"Free wireless" is beginning to look a lot like "free lunch" -- it may not be possible. The City of Hartford, Connecticut embarked two years ago on an ambitious plan to provide free wireless service to large portions of the city. After two years and $800,000, there is little to show.

The Hartford project appears to be having difficulties similar to other early community wireless efforts: unjustified optimism about the ability of wireless signals to penetrate apartment and office buildings filled with steel reinforcement, and the lack of a business plan that provides for long term sustainability of the system.

In some quarters, there have been pronouncements that private sector wireless is not working (i.e. public/private partnerships), and that the only way to go is an all muni free or very low fee system. But it is not the nature of the partnership that is the core issue--it is the nature of the business model, which can be public, private, or a public/private partnership. Any of those can work and work well with the right business model.

Let's not throw the baby out with the bathwater. Community broadband and community wireless projects are going to be very important to the economic future of many U.S. towns and cities, but it is not who owns it that determines success, it is whether or not the owners have a sustainable business plan.

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