I just love this Businessweek story about failing municipal Wi-Fi projects, because I believe such projects to be one of the worst examples of government expropriation of wealth. The idea of government taking money from taxpayers so that some Internet users can have constant Wi-Fi access is astounding.
If the public wants such a service enough, a private company would be more than willing to provide it. And if it's not economically viable, then it shouldn't happen.
What's most interesting to me, though, is what appears to be the primary reason the projects are failing: lack of public demand. I was afraid that people would latch onto the free services, cancel their private Internet connections, and thus hold back the development of new and better connectivity solutions.
Instead, something different is happening. Wherever municipalities try to establish services, or announce their plans to do so, private Internet providers (telcos, cable, etc.) are lowering their prices. And, their customers are staying with them.
Don't misunderstand me. It's a bad thing that government is engaging in activities that forces private companies to lower their prices and lose profits. It's wrong morally, and its wrong practically, because lower telco and cable profits means that there's less money to invest in upgrading the countries infrastructure.
Notice that at the end of the story, it's noted that the private companies who've been in partnership with the various municipalities are saying that the governments need to chip in to pay more of the costs. Meaning they're not profitable enterprises, and so taxpayers--whether they would ever use the service or not, and involuntarily--will be taxed more to pay for the service.
How anyone can see this kind of program as a good thing astounds me. It really does.