Media Briefing on Broadband & Mobility

March 16, 2009

The Muni Wireless Phoenix

They’re baaaaack. The enemies of muni wireless (and all muni-driven network projects) are rearing their head with a vengeance in the recent couple of weeks. They’ve taken to the OpEd pages to attack local government involvement in anything coming from the broadband stimulus bill. And using a marginally accurate “report” as their hammer. You have to check out Glenn Fleishman’s dissection of this sham-as-research

Well, three things have happened recently to counteract the fear mongering sock puppets.

1. Cablevision has just revealed that free municipal wireless dramatically drives up cable service subscriptions.

2. WiFi network manufacturer Meraki is changing the economics of muni network deployment.

3. Successful municipal network projects are breeding more success.

Game Changers

Over a year ago I predicted that muni wireless would give cable companies a good way to expand and protect their wired service offerings – http://tinyurl.com/b5xydk (And no, you can’t borrow my crystal ball). Cablevision eventually took the plunge, and last week disclosed a 70% sequential growth in net subscriber additions, attributed primarily to its free wireless service.

Once this realization becomes absorbed in the cable operator world, along with the resulting fear of being left behind, it’s going to change the proposal-writing strategy of some of these providers when they see they have a play in mid-sized and even large cities. Smart local governments now have leverage to get small and regional cable companies to partner in projects to reach underserved communities.

Meraki has quietly over the last couple of years enabled dozens of towns and communities to build either limited-reach networks that cover neighborhoods where they want to improve economic development, or complete area-wide networks. The company recently released a new outdoor access point they claim gives good coverage for less than 1/3 the cost of competitors’ APs. 

There are thousands of small towns in America that, whether they have fiber throughout the town or just a few strands coming into key areas, will find it economical to consider a wireless network if it’s inexpensive enough. Couple that with network management features and services that make it possible for a non-techie to deploy and keep running, local governments have an option worth considering with or without broadband stimulus money.

Success breed success

The muni wireless success stories bubbling up point to the positive economic benefits these networks deliver, as I point out in my recent Fierce Broadband column, and strike fear into the hearts of incumbents. They’re worried that in some areas their days might be numbered. And they’re right. Hence the OpEd trench warfare.

These success stories are the key to effective pushback strategies when local governments go to apply for stimulus money. The Obama administration wants to create successes quickly with its stimulus bill, so where are NTIA and RUS likely to invest those grants? I’d say definitely into communities that show how they can emulate these wireless success stories.

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