We’ve reported before how vigorously phone companies fight free municipal Wi-Fi services. Yet cities fight back, wanting to spur economic vitality and growth. In New Orleans’ case, the city simply wants to keep their collective heads above water, which makes BellSouth’s attempts to close down free Wi-Fi put in place in the wake of Katrina look particularly loathsome.
According to USA TODAY:
More than half of New Orleans still doesn’t have phone or Internet access. But that isn’t stopping BellSouth from campaigning to shut down a free Wi-Fi service that has become a lifeline for thousands of residents, the city’s top technology officer says.
The city decided last fall to convert its wireless network, used for emergency personnel, into a free Wi-Fi service.
Within weeks, “BellSouth was in here asking us when we were going to wind it down,” Greg Meffert, the city’s chief information officer, recalls. “We told them we couldn’t do that.”
Last week Meffert reached out to EarthLink.
The result: EarthLink plans to take over the city’s Wi-Fi network, with the goal of spending around $15 million in the next three years to build out the network to a 15-to-20-mile radius around the city.
“We really feel for the city,” says Donald Berryman, president of EarthLink’s municipal networks. “They’re still basically at a crawl in terms of communications there.”
One man gathers what another man spills. Looks like Earthlink not only picks up the Wi-Fi business, but a ton of good will. And it’s hard to put a price on that.