Not to beat a dead horse, but an Investor's Business Daily article offers some good insights into Philadelphia's plans to build a Wi-Fi network: As much as I hate to sympathize with a huge telco, I have to agree with comments from a Verizon spokesman. He points out that city governments don't pay the same kinds of taxes as companies like Verizon so it's not really fair when companies have to compete with cities that use taxpayer money to build networks. While I like the idea of cities building low-cost networks, it strikes me as odd that they may end up competing against companies--large or small--trying to make a business out of Internet access.
3rd Wave, a provider of hotspot services in Atlanta, suggests that it's not necessary for cities to build networks using taxpayer dollars. It's not news when cities talk about spending money to research the affects of building a Wi-Fi network. "It's news when a city actually brings the Wi-Fi online, which we have done for Atlanta without any public money or help," Rich Tanksley, a 3rd Wave spokesman, wrote in an email exchange.
However, 3rd Wave and cities often have slightly different goals. 3rd Wave networks are hotspots that may be useful to customers while they sit in a cafe or other public locations. The cities like Philadelphia are usually trying to offer residents a low cost broadband Internet access option in their homes and anywhere they travel in the city. At the end of the day, however, the problem is that cities wouldn't be interested in building Wi-Fi or other networks if they had good broadband service--landline or wireless--from commercial providers.
On a side note, I'd like to encourage my fellow writers to resist the temptation to cite the largest Wi-Fi network in the world. Some writers said the Philadelphia network would be the largest in the world, the Investor's Business Daily piece points to Taipei, Taiwan as the biggest city to offer Wi-Fi, and a recent Seattle Post-Intelligencer article describes a network in Washington that covers 1,500 square miles. The moral of the story is that it's really hard to figure out who has the largest network in the world and that designation probably changes by the day anyway so it will probably suffice to just discuss really large networks.