Earthlink bails on municipal Wi-Fi leaving low income families in a lurch

When some large and medium sized cities decided to try and roll out city wide municipal Wi-Fi service that would be used by paying customers and by low-income families for free or reduced rates, EarthLink was one of the first ISPs to jump on the project.

EarthLink pretty much cornered the market on municipal Wi-Fi and the projects in cities like Philadelphia were hailed as Internet for the masses. The New York Times now reports these lofty goals for Philadelphia and other cities that jumped on the municipal Wi-Fi bandwagon have all but come to a standstill. The main reason for the halt on the roll out plans for city wide Wi-Fi is being blamed on the abrupt about face by EarthLink who suddenly announced it was pulling out of the project.

Customers that previously had municipal Wi-Fi service in Portland, Oregon and Tempe, Arizona are now finding their access is no longer available. EarthLink announced in early February 2008, "the operations of the municipal Wi-Fi assets were no longer consistent with the company’s strategic direction."

The cessation of Wi-Fi operations and the possible loss of access for some users in Philadelphia has some low income families worried. Cesar DeLaRosa, a 15 year old municipal Wi-Fi user from Philadelphia told The New York Times, “If we don’t have Internet, that means I’ve got to take the bus to the public library after dark, and around here, that’s not always real safe.” Officials in Philadelphia say that the municipal Wi-Fi service promised by EarthLink won’t be disconnected.

The problem according to some that has lead to the faltering Wi-Fi service is that the business model was flawed. It was found that to offer the quality of coverage needed required more routers than planned on making the cost of installing the network more expensive. At the same time the cost of access to paying providers on the municipal Wi-Fi service was more than what paying customers could get similar connectivity for from competing firms.

EarthLink announced a similar pull out in San Francisco, leading Mayor Gavin Newson to say, “It was a huge disappointment for us. And, with all due respect, it doesn’t seem like a smart way to run a business to work with a city for two years over a major plan and then suddenly one day to call and say you are pulling out.”

"A politician stumbles over himself... Then they pick it out. They edit it. He runs the clip, and then he makes a funny face, and the whole audience has a Pavlovian response." -- Joe Scarborough on John Stewart over Jim Cramer
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