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Orlando axes free muni Wi-Fi

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The city of Orlando in Florida has pulled the plug on the city's free Wi-Fi service. Although the city has a population of over 1.8m, only around 27 people a day were using the service, which was costing the district $1,800 a month.

Metropolitan Wi-Fi has become the new cause for the internet lobby ever since the short-lived public Wi-Fi bubble burst a couple of years ago. In early 2003, fuelled by a $300m Intel ad campaign, bloggers urged the nation's coffee shops to install 802.11 LANs to drive up revenues. But by August NewsWeek had picked up on our characterization of this as a 'Bubble'. T-Mobile was losing $10 on every $1 of revenue from its Starbucks roll-out, and the magazine blamed "optimistic analysts making the rounds of technology conferences turned pep rallies," a permanent feature of Silicon Valley life.

The introduction of free Wi-Fi didn't bring in new revenue for most cafe owners, and added a new frustration: they now had to ask the low-spending bloggers who squatted their cafes all day to button up their pyjamas, or leave.

With Public Wi-Fi a commercial non-starter, the formerly once-libertarian tech-lobby has turned to municipal handouts to continue the dream of "getting everyone connected". But it's as misguided as the earlier bubble. Internet access is a means to an end, not an end in itself, and makes as much sense as calling for cities to install ketchup dispensers every few yards.

On the upside, five ISPs have stepped in offering to supply free Wi-Fi to the anguished Orlando Pyjamahadeen. So bubbles don't really burst - they just reinflate endlessly, in ever smaller bubblettes. ®

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