I've been citing Lompoc, Calif., as a poster child of what can go wrong in municipal Wi-Fi for a few years: But I apparently have to change my tune. Lompoc, near Santa Barbara, had unreasonable expectations, if you read their first and second RFPs. The first provider built a network that Lompoc found unacceptable and they bid it out for a second network to be built (some of these details are murky and some under dispute).
What's been clear is that after spending more than $3m, the city couldn't acquire more than a few hundred regular subscribers, about 10 percent of the point they'd need to pay expenses and pay down capital outlay. But it turns out that the backend was as important as their network deployment, IDG News Service reports.
The latest city network administrator brought in Aptilo Networks for backend authentication and session processing, opened the network to 15-minute free trials, and started accepted ad hoc payment. The new network guru also let outsourced contracts expire and brought customer support and other services back in house to reduce expenses and improve the feedback loop. He discovered their existing authentication system was licensed for 500 users, so that might have explained their failure to grow, too.
The city now has 1,000 regular users at all levels, from pay-as-you-go to monthly household subscriptions. They've revised breakeven down to 2,000 subscribers, and say they are breakeven for expenses.
The other problem Lompoc had, by the way, is that the cable and telephone companies didn't sit still. I exaggerate, but when Lomopoc was planning its network, it had very poor coverage for its 42,000 residents for DSL and cable modem service. When the Wi-Fi network was announced, the incumbents started pulling copper, coax, and fiber, and dramatically improved network coverage. The $3m wasn't entirely ill spent so far: it was a kind of reverse incentive to the private companies to get their act together.