Across the U.S., Internet providers are giving up on free urban wireless projects. Cities such as Philadelphia, Chicago, Houston, San Francisco, and Miami once had grand plans for free city-wide wireless Internet. However, implementing such plans proved difficult. More routers were required than initially anticipated, which drove costs up. In addition, paid subscription sales, which would help cover the cost of free service, didn’t meet expectations. When ISPs realized the non-profitability of their free wireless projects, many of them pulled out or abandoned partially completed infrastructures. Residents were left without Internet access, or wondering how long their current access would last. Low-income residents have been especially negatively affected, because in many cases they can’t afford or don’t have access to other Internet connectivity.
Other cities are taking different tactics, hoping to bring free wireless Internet to their citizens. According to the New York Times article “Hopes for Wireless Cities Fade as Internet Providers Pull Out,” Minneapolis is pioneering a financially sustainable wireless project that requires the city to commit to a minimum number of subscriptions for its employees, thereby funding the municipality’s “free” city-wide Internet access. Augusta, Georgia, is using a state grant to spend more than $500,000 constructing a wireless network that will span the city’s most densely populated areas, as well as the downtown area and three colleges. According to a city news release, Augusta is releasing its Request for Proposal (RFP) soon, and plans to start on the network by year’s end. If more cities are to successfully implement free wireless networks, they need to follow a similarly financially conservative approach, rather than depending on ISPs to build the network’s sustainability.