Slugging it out over muni Wi-Fi

Two views on the heated debate over city-sponsored Wi-Fi networks

When the idea of municipally sponsored, citywide Wi-Fi networks was first floated a few years ago, the result was the type of vehement debate typically reserved for issues such as war and taxes. The heat of those debates hasn't lessened even as municipal wireless projects are rapidly becoming a reality.

"I expect them to fail," said Michael Balhoff, managing partner of Balhoff & Rowe LLC, a think tank and advocacy firm focused on the telecommunications industry. And with that failure will come risk to taxpayers, Balhoff added.

Esme Vos, editor of MuniWireless.com

Esme Vos, editor of MuniWireless.com Esme Vos, editor of MuniWireless.com, a site that covers the municipal wireless movement, disagreed just as vehemently, claiming that the strongest muni Wi-Fi opponents, the incumbent telecommunications companies, just want to protect their business interests.

"They want to control the network," Vos said. "In most municipalities, it's cable and them. They don't want a third entity to build a competitor. They just don't like competition."

A number of smaller municipalities already have wireless networks in place, and construction is under way on networks in some big cities, such as Philadelphia. In fact, municipal wireless networks are being built -- or soon will be -- in about 300 U.S. municipalities, according to Vos.

Michael Balhoff, managing partner of Balhoff & Rowe

Michael Balhoff, managing partner of Balhoff & Rowe The three most heatedly debated issues in the muni wireless debate are 1) Should government be involved in such projects, or should they be left to the private sector? 2) Are taxpayers at risk? and 3) Is wireless technology up to the task?

Vos and Balhoff provided their strong opinions on these issues in two separate interviews.

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