MetroFi abruptly changes its municipal broadband wireless model: MetroFi came before other city-wide Wi-Fi efforts, requiring little city cooperation beyond leasing pole space and no bidding. The entrance of companies into the space that will offer free access to residents and visitors--such as Google's accepted plan for Mountain View and proposal for San Francisco--has apparently sent MetroFi into a new mode. They've unwired Santa Clara and Cupertino, offering 1 Mbps down and 256 Kbps up, charging $19.95 per month.
Their Sunnyvale launch--already serving about a third of the households--will require that users keep an ad banner up at all times (a half-inch strip) to receive free service. If it's successful, they'll roll out free, advertising-supported service to their original two cities, too.
While the article cites the company's CEO saying that this is a test, a visit to MetroFi's home page reveals their home page stating that their service is free, footnoted that it's only free in Sunnyvale. Doesn't feel like a test. Feels like tectonic plates moving underfoot.
Update: Via email, CEO Chuck Haas commented on the plan, noting that "The advertiser revenue will greatly augment and could well exceed the revenue from our existing $19.95 paid subscriber service. When you look at the alternatives for local advertisers, MetroFi is an affordable and
powerful way for local businesses to increase revenue."
Google thinks so, too, with local ads representing about 40 percent of domestic ad spending.