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The amount of public money spent by city and county government on speculative Wi-Fi ventures is staggering. Most of the attempts have failed, or are in the process of failing. After much hype in the beginning, municipal Wi-Fi has lost its luster, forcing providers and customers to look for better alternatives. Free Wi-Fi

Big cities like San Francisco, Houston and Chicago are walking away from failed Wi-Fi efforts while the Wireless Silicon Valley project barely clings to life. The economic model is clearly not sustainable on its own and could only survive with continuous infusion of tax dollars. Many civic leaders believed that giving away free Wi-Fi service would actually result in positive cash flow toward city and county government. Municipal Wi-Fi is nothing more than modern Fools Gold. In this case, it appears that fools were the ones in search of the gold.

The laws of physics work against effective municipal Wi-Fi deployment. Wi-Fi signals are so weak that an incredibly high number of access points (base stations) are needed to provide adequate coverage in most communities. Internet users desire access inside buildings, and the weak Wi-Fi signals from outdoor access points are rarely able to adequately penetrate buildings. The effective range of most access points is a radius of less than 500 feet. How many access points would be needed to cover a city like San Francisco? And then, how many users would be content to go outdoors in order to receive an adequate signal?

Government hasn’t been content to only fail at its attempts to deploy free Wi-Fi access for citizens. Millions of dollars of Federal Homeland Security grant money have been spent on Wi-Fi projects that never met the stated objectives. There appears to be no accountability for failed Homeland Security Wi-Fi projects. The projects are declared a success so long as there is no negative press coverage or lawsuits. Delivering tangible benefit to first responders and the community is never measured.