MetroFi’s Portland network to shut down

MetroFi will be shutting down Portland’s network this month. With only 30 percent of the city covered, MetroFi announced several months ago that it could no longer expand or operate the network. MetroFi wanted $9 million from the city to continue network expansion and operations, but the city does not want to pay. It has no plans to use the network for municipal purposes. Philadelphia managed to find local investors to take over EarthLink’s network, but Portland is taking a more laid-back approach. No one has stepped up so far to take over MetroFi’s network and the city doesn’t seem to be working hard to find a buyer.

MetroFi thought that it could support the cost of building and running the network by selling advertising and subscriptions. The company is also shutting down networks in other cities.

Comments

  1. The reason (IMHO) that Portland has little interest in bailing out MetroFi is based on the overwhelmingly bad experience that users have had with MetroFi:

    (1) Their service was supremely under-deployed (to the point of violation of contract) in terms of both density and scope.

    (2) They provided no support to their end users.

    (3) The “free” WiFi was cluttered with obnoxious ads and spyware.

    The combined effect was that the citizens of Portland mostly couldn’t use the network and when they could, it proved to be frustrating, ugly, and lossy.

    In the end, Personal Telco, the non-profit community wireless group which pioneered free wifi in Portland is still around and is still building real networks. Maybe someday municipalities will realize that grass-roots efforts can build real networks of high quality and social value; something that pipe-dream business models, such as MetroFi’s, never will.

  2. Esme Vos says

    Caleb,

    So we come back to the users’ experience. I have written so many articles on Muniwireless urging service providers to think about who is using the network, how are they accessing it (with laptops? PDAs? gaming devices?) and what they are doing on it. When the day comes that most people are running around with a very small device such as an iPhone, Wi-Fi service providers need to take that into account. Another major annoyance is the cumbersome login page.

  3. Esme,

    What does it matter what size of device people are using. The fact of the matter is that ANY device on their network generally has a unusable experience. The network connection has nothing to do with how content is displayed. But if you don’t create a transport infrastructure that can reasonably get you to that “content of the Internet” then it’s unusable by anything or anyone.

    Bottom line is they built a failed infrastructure. It doesn’t have anything to do with a question like, can a wireless network in a city succeed or if they have to provide content meant for small devices.

    This network failed because their architects built a terrible network and their software designers deployed terrible services.

  4. Esme Vos says

    Aaron,

    I did not mean to say that the Portland network failed because they did not create it for use by small devices. What I meant was that in general, when people build a network, they need to know who is using it and to tailor the service around that. So for example, in Portland if more people are trying to get access to the network in a particular district, the network operator should add capacity in that district. I am only trying to make what I think is for you and me a very obvious point: that service providers should focus on who the end user is, what they are doing on the network, how they are using it and so on. Of course everything starts with building a good network.

    After that, they still have work to do, which is to pay attention to details such as the login page. So even if a network is very good, if the login page sucks, I will have a terrible experience.