When EarthLink announced its decision to withdraw further investments in municipal wireless networks in November 2007, the future of Philadelphia's network, along with hundreds of municipal wireless projects, became uncertain. Wireless Philadelphia, the nation's first big-city municipal wireless initiative, led the way for cities to invest in broadband infrastructure. Although a number of other muni wireless networks have been set up and are running successfully (such as St. Cloud, FL and Chaska and Minneapolis, MN) troubles with the Philadelphia model serve as a warning for the future of municipal wireless. Meanwhile, cities like Pittsburgh must overcome state pre-emption laws, pushed through by incumbent carriers, aimed at preventing towns and counties from filling broadband gaps with government-subsidized services.
Two new reports from the New America Foundation on the state of municipal wireless in Philadelphia were released at this event: Joshua Breitbart, author of The Philadelphia Story: Learning from a Wireless Pioneer, discussed how Wireless Philadelphia evolved and will continue to impact the future of public and private investment in municipal networks. Dr. Jon Peha used Pittsburgh, PA as a case study for his new economic analysis that compares four alternative models for muni wireless networks: Sustainability of Possible Models for a Wireless Metropolitan-Area Network.
Other panelists described several innovative and successful community wireless networks including: the FunkFeuer network in Austria; the Austin Wireless City Project of Texas; the City of St. Cloud's free citywide WiFi network in Florida; and Minneapolis's wireless network in Minnesota.
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