Let's give the Florida town some kudos because it was taking its lumps a few months ago: Jonathan Baltuch of MRI, a consultant for the city on this Wi-Fi rollout, writes in a guest column at Muniwireless.com that in the first six months of operation (as of Sept. 6, 2006), they saw 8,421 registered users or 77% of city households. The city has grown from an estimated 10,000 to 11,000 households during that period with annexations and developments, which tells you how fast towns grow these days. Update: I confirmed with Baltuch via email that the number of households is correct--the count of 8,421 represents at least one user in a household, not 8,421 individuals. They expect this could mean about double that number of individuals using the network, or at least in a home in which the network is being used, based on about two users per household in their survey.
They've logged 1.8m hours and seen over 500K sessions, transferring 10 terabytes of data, with an average session time of 3.55 hours. He's putting the money saved by residents at $3.7m per year based on an average fee previously paid of about $36 per month. (If you were paying $26.95 for AOL for dial-up, that's now dropped to $9.99, but I figure there's a lot of variation among dial-up and broadband monthly fees.)
These are pretty cool numbers because they support both Baltuch's case--the idea that free Wi-Fi paid for by a city could produce economic effects and high uptake--and the opposite. The opposite case being that there's such a pent-up demand for this that a combination of advertising-supported free service and paid monthly service at a rate below an average of $36 per month could have good uptake, too. Baltuch is absolutely correct that with predictions by EarthLink et al. of a 15-20% take rate of subscriptions in cities that will have Wi-Fi networks installed, seeing a six-month 77% take rate is fairly remarkable.
It may cause some rethink. The former mayor, Glenn Sangiovanni, talked months ago about how pretty much every dollar spend on Internet access in his city was leaving the city economy, and that by spending well under $3m, the city would be serving several different missions, including retaining dollars that would ostensibly be kept in town.