Minneapolis is very bold. It’s unclear why other major US cities are not taking such initiative, or why there aren’t national organizations being formed to figure out a viable plan. Why should every city have to reinvent the wheel? Portland is making considerable strides towards going wireless. And of course, Philadelphia has been through a number. But is anybody talking?
What Minneapolis is proposing – a privately built and operated Wi-Fi network available to every home and business – has never been done on such a large scale. And while the ownership plan may ward off unfair-competition charges from telecom companies, who bitterly attacked Philadelphia’s initial notion of a city-owned system, its feasibility rests on a business model that has yet to be developed, let alone tested.
For example, it’s an open question what the Wi-Fi owners would pay Minneapolis for access to its light poles and rooftops – or what they would charge the city to provide high-speed data streams to its police cars and firetrucks, as well as 300 city park shelters, schools and office buildings. Profitability will require widespread sales of network access – and probably of special services or content – to residential and business customers. But at what cost, and under what rules?