Now that all of these networks – EarthLink’s and MetroFi’s – are being sold or shut down, I asked myself last week in San Francisco, over cappuccino at Peet’s Coffee in the Ferry Building, what SF, Philadelphia and other cities could have done. Suddenly the answer came to me. San Francisco could have required cafes to install Wi-Fi networks and also required them to offer Wi-Fi service free of charge to the public. Then, companies such as FON, could have offered these free (or cheap) FON access points. ISPs would have competed for their business or even done very interesting bundled deals that would have resulted in cafes getting cheap broadband service. Users could rate and rank the cafes based on the quality of their broadband service like they rate them today on the quality of their cakes, coffees, muffins, bagels, etc.
If San Francisco had done this two years ago, there would be Wi-Fi in nearly every part of the city without going through the RFP process, the lengthy period of setting up access points, without a provider having to spend millions of dollars on equipment and installation. There’s already a lot of wired broadband (and wireless broadband) in cities like SF. Just give it a push like this and you have citywide Wi-Fi.
UPDATE: See this post from Andy Abramson who writes the excellent blog, VOIPWatch:
Andy says: Give the coffee shop operators an annual credit against their taxes for the cost of a 1.5 meg DSL line and a router. Let’s see, that’s about $300 a year, versus the millions it would cost to build out the system that never came to be.