The concept of municipally owned Wi-Fi makes a comeback: I've been blunt in noting for a couple of years that I don't generally support the idea of cities entering the telecommunications business except in cases in which alternatives are few. But municipally owned wireless really doesn't mean that towns and metropolises are encouraged to develop, say, a utility-based in-house expertise. Rather, it's the other side of the line from public-private partnerships. And it requires acceptance of the notion that substantially more "free" Wi-Fi access is a public good that's more valuable than outsourcing the network and allowing profits to accrue to private enterprise.
The Institute for Local Self-Reliance issued a report that argues for a particular form of publicly owned network in which the entity builds infrastructure which it resells on non-discriminatory, broad, wholesale terms. This is distinct from many city-proposed and city-built networks that are either entirely free to use or which put the city in the role of the main or sole retail purveyor of service. Tacoma Power's broadband network has been on this basis since at least 2000, with multiple residential and business providers selling access and the Washington utility not involved in that at all. (Tacoma Power sells cable television service directly, however.)
San Francisco, meanwhile, saw a report issued by the San Francisco budget analyst's office for the Board of Supervisors, a group that has been generally critical of the Wi-Fi plan championed by Mayor Gavin Newsom, and that will shortly reach the supervisors for a vote. The analyst found that a city-owned network could produce a deficit or profit, depending on a variety of assumptions, all of which had the city using such a network to upgrade or replace existing telecom and data contracts--which is not assured in San Francisco's contract with EarthLink. San Francisco has 642 T-1 lines, for instance, and replacing those with in-house wireless links (where fiber wouldn't be available) would save $5,346 per year beyond the setup cost. However, the analyst's report is highly critical of the process by which EarthLink was selected and, by extension, Google incorporated as the free, lower-speed provider. One specific complaint is that no feasibility study was conducted before issuing the RFI and then RFP and then awarding the contract. (Report in PDF form)