Recently, as in today I found a troubling article in the SF Chronicle about Mayor Gavin Newsom's free Wi-Fi plan to accomadate all citizens far and wide, rich and poor. The "free" network, which was supposed to be built by EarthLink, who just announced yesterday it was pulling out of the deal due to financial difficulties. Interesting, maybe thats why EarthLink just announced it was laying off 900 employees.
This looks bad all around the country, not just in San Francisco. Anchorage and Chicago just canceled their plans to attempt to build a free Wi-Fi network in their cities as well. Conviently their networks were also supposed to be built by EarthLink. The doom sayers are apparently out in force because the system does not seem "financially viable."
To me what doesn't seem financially viable is the company EarthLink. Google won a bid in San Francisco to build the network and test out new products, why then give the entire project to EarthLink, a company that is spread so thin you can practically see through it. I understand the Google-EarthLink connection but why specifically them. If Google is so interested in testing new products and advertising techniques why not pay for it completely out of pocket? Why didn't Mayor Newsom realize that Google's Earthlink wasn't financially viable and either not award them the contract or begin looking in other directions?
Instead of blaming the proposed system of free Wi-Fi within cities people should start looking at other viable options. Maybe Google and its little brother companies aren't the answer. Besides, the network system Google was pushing was to be paid partially by advertising revenue (nothing new in America) and partially by a faster, better tier of service that subscribers would have to pay $21.95 a month for.
It seems that to make this net work you could feasibly keep the second, higher tier of service for a monthly fee and add a tax on the citizens that live within the city limits. Or possibly add a tax to multi-million (if not billion) dollar companies located in San Francisco's downtown district. After all it is titled the Financial District. This, it seems would easily net enough money to pay for a free municipal Wi-Fi network that could be accessed anywhere.
No doubt the companies will not adhere to a tax, because, well they usually don't. There are plenty of other ways to get this Wi-Fi network built in San Francisco and other cities without Google and without Earthlink. I do believe in the end it could and will be finanacially viable for companies to invest in. Especially if they have control over advertising content and reach.
Just because a few companies can't hold their accounts in the black doesn't mean that free city wide municipal Wi-Fi is a failing option that can never get off the ground.