Mad City Broadband started charging, as expected, for its downtown Wi-Fi network, drawing few paid users: The service was free while transmitters went up, lasting almost three months. The service drew 4,000 unique users during that period, they say, but only "a few subscribers" since turning on the fees on June 5. A University of Wisconsin at Madison student stated the obvious: "I have DSL at home, and Internet on campus is free. And usually most coffee shops have free wireless, so I've been using that."
While I have often argued that there's a distinct difference among for-fee business-oriented networks (many locations, high locations, hotels part of the mix, roaming deals), for-fee consumer networks (lower prices, unique locations or value, usage cards), commercially operated free networks (NewburyOpen.Net), advertising-supported free networks (MetroFi et al.), and purely free networks, I also note that networks that merely overlap existing coverage where there's substantial free or campus coverage will have a hard time of it.
The local airport launched Wi-Fi service this week for $7 a day also using Cellnet's Mad City Broadband service, but the airport spokesperson has a problem with math. She is paraphrased as stating, "Madison is one of the first communities in the nation to offer both airport and local wireless access for a single fee." But then the article notes that it's an extra $3 on top of $7 to use the rest of the network. This is a discount, not a single fee--it's just a paid-at-one-time surcharge.
The ultimate plan is to extend access beyond this "Phase 1" in downtown, and that's where the value will start to increase. A service that someone can use across an area--even in one's backyard, for instance--becomes more valuable to obtain an unlimited monthly account.