Just over a week ago, the City Council voted to use grant money that would have helped fund citywide wireless Internet on a “point-to-point” system that can only be used by city employees. That effectively kills one of Mayor Carl Brewer’s campaign initiatives — at least for now. And it comes nearly a year after council members declined to accept blueprints offered by Azulstar and several other companies involved in spreading Internet access across entire cities. Now, a new article in The New York Times says that many cities that embarked on widespread wireless Internet have found themselves backing out or frustrated.
“Prices for Internet service on the broader market also began dropping to a level that, while above what many poor people could afford, was below what municipal Wi-Fi providers were offering, so the companies had to lower their rates even further, making investment in infrastructure even more risky.” — Terry Phillis, Philadelphia’s chief information officer, said in The New York Times article.
Following that trend are Azulstar’s problems in Rio Rancho, New Mexico that gave cold feet to Wichita’s council members who loved the idea of mostly-free web access. The company also had problems in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. Azulstar was the company Wichita’s tech department recommended, and Azulstar provided piles of research that showed how such a system could work here. But even the city’s tech gurus approached cautiously, based on interviews that happened before the council voted.
Municipal wireless offers one of the most promoted ways to bridge the so-called digital divide that leaves some of us connected to nearly endless information and others left to find information by more traditional means. Libraries seem to be the answer for many people who lack a connection now. But what’s ahead? Did Wichita save some troubles — or miss an opportunity?