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Wi-T-Fi, No Municipal Wireless Internet?

By Louis on Aug 29, 2007 3:00PM


Ah, the best laid plans of politicians and telecoms often go awry. When Chicagoist first heard the possibility that we could soon be bathing in glorious Wi-Fi in the streets of our fair city, we reacted with skepticism. We did dream a time when we could check our e-mail while riding the bus or post while relaxing on the beach. But that was back in 2006.

Unfortunately, for now, we will have to put such lofty goals aside. It just isn't to be. We didn't notice, but apparently the world has changed dramatically since ol' 2006, and the plan just isn't as feasible now. Chicago was slated to be one of the first major cities to roll out municipal wireless internet. The plan would have allowed for Chicago to build the infrastructure and a telecom to administer the service. The goal was to offer the service to subscribers at around $20 a month.

Unfortunately, the question is now, who wants $20 municipal internet? A similar plan was enacted in Lompoc, Calif., where a $2 million municipal internet service resulted in 500 subscribers in an area covering a possible 40,000 people. Earthlink and AT&T, two of the possible providers, were looking for the City of Chicago to practice what they preach and be an "anchor user." Yesterday, it was reported that the negotiations have ended unsuccessfully.

We've always been slightly wary of public Wi-Fi, free or not. For one, despite our jest, technology has changed. Sprint is preparing to roll out a WiMax service that covers a lot more area with a lot less equipment. Also, while not always true, we can usually find Wi-Fi pretty easily. Most coffee shops have it, Chicago libraries have it, some Chicago parks have it, and even Subway has it. The number of possible problems with public internet could take up an entire page, including, but not limited to, security, outages, slowdowns, etc. We can't always count on the CTA, and getting to work is much less important to us that what is happening on the internet.

Our suggestion? Make it free, support it with advertising (for the price of free, we won't complain about advertisements on our computer), and we may use it as a backup to our normal connection.