This article on rural Oregon's giant privately run Wi-Fi cloud appeared in an abbreviated form last month: An earlier version ran off the wire in The Seattle Times back on Sept. 26; this version is much expanded.
The basic facts are the same: rural area, cooperation from locals, private developer. The service is free for individual use, and the owner is recouping expense through fees paid by local government. The owner, Fred Ziari, a transplanted Iranian, said the lack of politics in signing deals and erecting towers is one reason the network is so large. Another is clearly that the incumbent providers aren't fleet enough to make enough profit off these kinds of ventures. Why erect wireless and charge very little for it when you have incredibly expensive rural copper and fiber you need to pay down?
The neat part about this network is that it wasn't another one of those built from the philosophy of throw Wi-Fi at the wall and see if it sticks. Rather, there are very particular purposes, such as emergency evacuation, police reporting, and information flow among far-flung municipal and county workers that have driven these efforts. The incremental cost for these rural locations seems small or even productive: less police overtime, for instance, can pay the cost of a network awfully fast.