WiFi Buzzkill

Uh oh. The New York Times popped the question that no city official who's drunk on WiFi hype wants to think about. Here it is: ...
by | June 27, 2006

Uh oh. The New York Times popped the question that no city official who's drunk on WiFi hype wants to think about.

Here it is: What if a city built a wireless Internet network and hardly anybody used it?

Oh no they didn't! Yes they did! Uh oh. What do they have against WiFi? Who's against WiFi? Jerks!

The story is about Taipei, Taiwan, but it's good cautionary reading in any city embarking on big wireless projects. Apparently, the $12.95/mo cost of the service, which is less than the roughly $20 many U.S. cities are contemplating, is turning a lot of people away. According to the Times, only 40,000 people in Taipai, out of a tech-savvy population of 2.6 million, have signed up since January.

I suppose you could read this as a vote for the free ad-supported systems of the sort Google is building in the SF Bay Area. But at the moment, that, too is a speculative business model. Don't get me wrong. My comments on this blog notwithstanding, I do think ubiquitous WiFi is going to unleash lots of mobile Internet uses that we can't contemplate now. A few of them may even prove genuinely useful -- unlike online gaming, for example, which is apparently one of the early applications in Taipai.

But maybe it's time to dial down the rhetoric on WiFi. A lot of mayors are telling their constituents that wireless is going to transform their lives and end poverty. We'll see. In the short term, some may come to regret the bubble of hype they've helped create around this issue.

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