Wire service seems to discover the shifting sands under muni-Fi a few weeks after its competitors: An AFP correspondent notes EarthLink's business model change a few weeks after that change is announced. Nonetheless, some good analysis, and a refreshing lack of the usual suspects quoted. (Even I'm not quoted; I'm tired of seeing myself quoted on this subject, because my views and conclusions are widely known.)
There is an interesting quote from an "independent" industry analyst--he's self-employed, but consults for telecoms according to his bio--about why this failures are occuring: "This is a technology that is changing so quickly that you have to allow the industry to handle it on a competitive basis to keep the prices low and innovation high...When government gets involved in these projects, no matter what government, it just trips over itself."
I'm not sure what to make of that. Kagan seems to be implying that cities are controlling these networks, where the high-profile cancellations involve cities settings terms. But those terms have turned out to be so sub-optimal, that perhaps cities were restricting competition even while not investing their own money in building the networks or having ownership. "When government gets involved" strikes me as knee-jerk conservatism, given that private industry funded the muni efforts that have stalled or never reached a signed contract. But, in fact, government did get involved.
There are just a handful of Wi-Fi networks across the U.S. in which a private company chose to build out without any bidding process--they just started obtaining pole and roof rights and put equipment up. MetroFi was an early company in that space in the Bay Area. That model withered when cities seemed to be offering franchises that would enable access to lots of city facilities, but also provide a de facto exclusivity by requiring 95 percent coverage and by ensuring subsequent providers would have only marginal markets and less real-estate access.
The public/private partnership was tipped in the public favor, but not for the public good. EarthLink accepted the most onerous terms in its contracts, leading the rest of the industry to do the same. Their change signals the end of that mode of business, and one in which cities and service providers have to find mutually beneficial models.
Williamsburg, Virg., appears to have coal-powered, steam-driven Wi-Fi: Residents aren't much happy with the free network's function. A power outage and a server crash disabled the network for a few days, and apparently no one in the city government noticed.