Monday, April 30, 2007

EarthLink Not So Sure About Muni Wi-Fi

EarthLink says it is studying the financial performance of its municipal wireless Internet networks in four cities--Philadelphia, New Orleans and California's Anaheim and Milpitas--before deciding how to move forward with similar Wi-Fi networks elsewhere.

While more cities are expressing interest in striking deals with the company, EarthLink is "not yet able to establish that comfort level" that the investments are really profitable, says Kevin Dotts, EarthLink's chief financial officer.

That's sort of the whole problem with Wi-Fi. It is a fabulously useful local access tool. It just never is quite so clear that it is a business, or a good business. Indoors is one story. Outdoors is quite another. As useful as Wi-Fi is indoors, muni Wi-Fi suffers in that respect. Sure, handhelds capable of doing something useful with outdoor Wi-Fi are getting to be more common. But they aren't yet real common. And I don't know about you, but I never use my notebook outdoors. My mobiles don't have Wi-Fi access. And I'm not really interested in downloading music to my iPods using Wi-Fi. Other people might want to do these things. The issue is whether there are enough of them.

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