MetroFi is deploying a citywide Wi-Fi network in Sunnyvale, California and will provide free Internet access to residents and visitors. MetroFi has entered into an agreement with the city of Sunnyvale to lease pole rights to mount equipment (from Skypilot) . One-third of the network is already up and running, with the rest scheduled to go live in a few MetroFi is deploying a citywide Wi-Fi network in Sunnyvale, California and will provide free Internet access to residents and visitors. MetroFi has entered into an agreement with the city of Sunnyvale to lease pole rights to mount equipment (from Skypilot) . One-third of the network is already up and running, with the rest scheduled to go live in a few months. The free access part of MetroFi’s offering will be supported through advertising. Better yet, no nasty sign-up pages that ask for lots of information about you and because it’s free, no online forms asking for your credit card details.
I spoke to Chuck Haas, CEO of MetroFi today and he told me that they are still offering their $19.95 service (as they already do in Santa Clara and Cupertino). There is no difference in bandwidth offered to the subscriber who pays and the one who accesses the network for free. What the subscriber gets is an ad-free experience. Chuck believes that the advertising model can work well in a city where there are a lot of laptop users and certainly, Sunnyvale – with hundreds of tech companies and geeks who spend the better part of a Saturday at Fry’s (like me) – is an excellent place to test the free and subscription models side by side. MetroFi has three hotzones in San Francisco: the Ferry Building, Portsmouth Square and the Civic Center.
We discussed how local advertising could really use a Wi-Fi + Google Maps + local search kick in the pants. For example, what do I see in the mailbox every month in our temporary apartment in San Francisco? Direct mail coupons in a ValuePak envelope. There are about five or six I regularly use (e.g. Thai Express takeout, Casa Mexicana $1 off burrito coupons, $6.99 Hamano sushi lunch specials, discounts on disposable contact lenses), but the rest – Jiffy Lube service, auto repair, plumbing – I don’t care for because I have no car and the plumbing in this apartment is fine.
It’s expensive to send out these paper coupons each month to every household in the neighborhood. Wouldn’t it be great if residents and visitors who happen to be shopping in the Castro and Duboce Triangle could find out where the lunch and dinner specials are, and be able to download a code from the local provider’s website (with the local provider being compensated for the advertising) and present it to the restaurant? Where else do local businesses advertise? The SF Examiner, SF Chronicle, SF Bay Guardian, bus shelters, bill boards — but the space is limited there, it’s expensive and if you are visiting the area, you’d never know where Hamano or Thai Express are located.
There’s a lot of untapped potential in local online advertising. It’s no wonder that Google submitted a response to the SF RFI and is unwiring Mountain View, yet another community in the Silicon Valley area, home to Google itself.
Note: MetroFi is a finalist (along with Earthlink and VeriLAN) in the Portland citywide Wi-Fi bid.