As plans for free municipal Wi-Fi ran aground last week in San Francisco, Chicago, and St. Louis, Wired investigates why the egalitarian dream of all-pervasive wireless has failed to take hold. All to blame: the high cost of infrastructure, difficult public-private partnerships, and, above all, low consumer interest.
Planners had wrongly assumed advertising could pay for Wi-Fi. They had grossly underestimated the number of transmitters needed, while overestimating city-dwellers' participation at about 25%. The actual figure turned out to be closer to 1-2%. Lesson learned? "Consumers are a weak play for muni wireless," says one analyst. "They're expensive to get, and more expensive to keep."