The Minneapolis city-wide Wi-Fi network is the only successful example of its kind for that scale of network: The next largest networks are far smaller or represent just part of a city. Even better, the Star Tribune reports that US Internet's operations are profitable four years into operation with 20,000 customers. The paper reports a $1.2m annual profit.
But why is it profitable? Because the city of Minneapolis agreed to pay $12.5m over ten years for services—services the city is hardly taking advantage of yet, even though departments are billed internally for them as part of their budgets. The city also prepaid some of these funds. This meant US Internet never ran out of necessary capital, as all its competitors more or less did, but the firm also didn't make new technology choices. It started with BelAir Networks gear, and it continues to use that vendor's equipment.
The failure to use prepaid services sounds much worse than it is. Having a viable additional broadband choice for service in a duopoly market, as well as one that's far cheaper than 3G cell for roaming within the city, has likely saved citizens millions of dollars over four years. Wherever there's the least broadband competition, cable and telephone companies drop prices, often better services, or have extended "introductory" offers you can renew by threatening to switch. It's hard to threaten if there's no second or third choice.
US Internet also pays into a fund to bridge the digital divide ($563K so far), and provides free Wi-Fi at 44 community centers.
As is usual with such efforts, the applications have followed the installation, and it's likely first-generation pilot projects didn't take off between early deployments of technology that wasn't ready and the economic collapse, which put some companies out of business or into retrenchment.
The city is starting to gear up, and within the 10-year contract, unused fees paid in previous years can be rolled over.