MetroFi changes business model? This Illinois paper says that MetroFi is no longer "offering free Wi-Fi to municipalities it has not contracted with already," and that means that the tri-cities of Batavia, Geneva, and St. Charles have to reconsider their metro Wi-Fi plans. I spoke to Adrian van Haaften, MetroFi's vice president of marketing, who explained the paper had gotten some of the details wrong.
MetroFi is now requiring that cities in which it provides free, ad-supported Wi-Fi access to residents and visitors agree to a minimum service buy as part of the contract, van Haaften said. The firm previously had language in the contract that expressed more of a statement of intent that cities would buy wireless services, but didn't require them. "We're making that a stronger part of our RFP requirement," van Haaften said. "We still build the network for free, but there is a requirement that there is a certain amount of services bought by from us by city departments."
This marks part of a change that I've seen as metro-scale Wi-Fi networks move into a more mature build-out phase, especially in smaller towns that have fewer variables, but still contain unknowns. MetroFi's Aurora, Ill., deployment has taken much longer due to issues in sorting out ownership of utility poles, a problem plaguing network buildouts across the US.
Service providers are increasingly likely to need an anchor tenant commitment by municipalities to bid on a project and come to a successful conclusion. Some metropolises, like San Francisco, have been able to leverage their size against making anchor tenant commitments, and, in the process, try to sidestep some of the issues of franchise and exclusivity that go with commitments to purchasing services. Some smaller towns are waking up to this change, seeing few bids for networks that ask private firms to assume too much risk.
Van Haaften said that MetroFi sees the commitments as being expense-neutral to cities, as MetroFi is typically either replacing existing or enhancing existing services, often saving money in the process. He noted that smart parking meters connected via Wi-Fi can pay for their cost by improving fraud protection or replacing more expensive cellular backhaul contracts.