I’ve been in Baltimore for the past few days, enjoying the WiFi at my hotel. In this morning’s Baltimore Sun, there’s a story about attempts for a municipal WiFi in Annapolis.
Paying for it has become a problem for several cities that have spent millions of taxpayer dollars to build wireless networks, then found themselves struggling with low subscription rates and technical problems.
Those familiar with Charleston’s WiFi struggle won’t find this surprising at all, but here’s some other examples.
Portland, Ore., for example, has set out to cover 90 percent of the city, but community activists recently found frequent connection problems in the pilot area. Lompoc, Calif., spent $3 million on a network to boost economic development after cutbacks at area military bases but only gained a few hundred subscribers, far fewer than the 4,000 needed to finance the project.
Oddly enough, I was talking to my brother, a computer engineer, about South Carolina’s aspirations of a statewide WiFi network. His response: “That’s nuts! There’s no way they can do it.” Why? The Sun article hits that note too.
While this technology works well in small, controlled settings such as homes, coffee shops, hotels and airports, deploying it throughout a city has posed challenges. Some free networks become overloaded with users and bog down. Elsewhere, because Wi-Fi signals have trouble penetrating buildings, home users get spotty reception and have to buy extra equipment to connect.