Municipal wireless networks were all the rage a couple years ago. Municipalities were encouraged to take broadband matters into their own hands and build and operate broadband wireless networks to help conquer the digital divide. Cities and towns, big and small, jumped in head first. Philadelphia and San Francisco led the way and hooked up with the likes of Earthlink and Google to showcase the model. Municipals were sold on the idea that these networks could be self sustaining, and even offer free access to citizens who couldn’t afford broadband otherwise. Reality soon set in, and the muni-wireless business model (if you want to call it that) crumbled. Earthlink exited the business entirely, and even paid some municipal partners millions to do so. MetroFi, a company built on the whole muni-wireless hype folded. Wi-Fi was questioned as being a suitable technology for these plans and broadband competitors were not thrilled at the prospect of governments as competitors. The concept spawned a lawsuit or two.
But is muni-wireless officially dead? Ars Technica looks into the possible rise from the ashes for muni-wireless, offering great insight into its current state. In fact, it may not be dead, but is certainly changed. Gone are the grandiose plans of the early days, replaced with more realistic goals. Networks are smaller and have more focused objectives. New vendors who offer “$10,000 mesh networks in a box” are bringing life to scaled down versions of earlier hype. What emerges may bring some clarity and long term stability to the muni-wireless concept.