Carol Ellison writes how municipal wireless isn't a threat except to incumbent operators' control of the market: Carol's point is made exceedingly well in this paragraph:
That brings us to the second discouraging item—the specious argument that putting the future of these plans into the hands of Big Broadband somehow embraces free market principles and the spirit of competition.
The main issue for me with muni wireless is that the municipalities should be focusing on what they do best: right of way and adjudication of a level-playing field. Even if "right of way" is metaphorical for wireless, it's not precisely: cities and counties control towers, hills, and building tops that are ideal for municipal wireless broadband. Instead of offering a commons in which every player has to install their own equipment, competing for physical and spectrum space, offering a "meet-me room" option for letting all players into a level ground--a neutral-host approach--the municipalities remove the infrastructure cost and the friction from competition.
Which is why telco and cable operators hate it. It means that they can't own, be subsidized for, and strangle the infrastructure. Philly's approach sounds like they want to become an ISP. I have argued in this space many times that Philly would be infinitely better served to contract the network to a firm that doesn't offer ISP services, but simply handles installation, maintenance, and fee settlement. Let 1,000 ISPs bloom, from zero-mark-up, subsidized non-profits offering low-income residents service for free or cheap, to Verizon's full-on integrated cable, voice, cell, Internet offering using Philly's network as their final mile.
The focus on municipal networks offering the metaphorical equivalent of call completion instead of pure dial tone is an extension of the "smart network" mistake of trying to load telco networks with intelligence instead of capacity.
I just read The Broadband Problem, a very good book by Charles Ferguson (the founder of Vermeer and now a Brookings Institute fellow) about bandwidth and the incumbents. His case, in brief, is that technology for increasing capacity over wire has increased at nearly the same pace as other innovation, such as processor power or storage capacity. Thus, we could have 50 Mbps to the home today if the incumbents were in the same situation that Intel, Western Digital, Apple, etc., are. (Ferguson also wrote the self-deprecating and highly entertaining title, High Stakes, No Prisoners, about his naivety and management missteps at Vermeer.)
He makes a good point developed extensively across the book that what's holding back the next generation of all sorts of services is entirely about control not technology. Unfortunately, his book was published in June 2004, and he only mentions Wi-Fi briefly, broadband wireless hardly at all, and WiMax isn't in the book even as a point of reference. Given that there is short-range gigabit wireless and long-range 10 Mbps wireless, this is a big omission.
I'd love to hear Ferguson integrate municipal wireless, broadband wireless, voice over IP proliferation, and the incumbent threat all together. For instance, he states that a comprehensive local phone service with all features should cost about $5 a month, but doesn't address that at the time his book was published you could purchase that plus unlimited long-distance service for about $30 per month.