The Contra Costa Times is reporting that Concord will soon be offering free wireless access for 1 square mile of its downtown area. This is not startling news as every week some town or city or county announces its own wireless project. However, there are several interesting pieces of information regarding how this is being funded, why it’s important, and why this doesn’t pose a real threat to incumbent ISPs offering cable and DSL wired connections.
This is being built by a company called MetroFi which is paying for it by selling advertising on the browser that window that appears when you access the service. Given that the cost of setting up such a wireless mesh is not that high, they should be able to recoup their investment pay for maintenance and eventually make a profit. What great model that could be for any community wireless project.

‘In five years, I think most major cities, suburbs and even more rural communities will have WiFi networks,’ said Chuck Haas, MetroFi’s chief executive officer.

‘There’s a benefit to local businesses because they can reach their customers through advertising and there’s a benefit to residents because they get Internet for free.’

The article goes on to explain why this is becoming such a necessity for communities who want to have a workforce attuned to the future, and why wireless will not supplant the higher speed services of wired ISPs:

‘It’s becoming necessary for people in the mobile work force,’ said Subhankar Dhar, a WiFi expert who teaches at San Jose State. ‘You may not get as fast as connectivity as when you’re at home (with wired Internet), but you can still easily send e-mail and get your news.’

MetroFi’s download speed is 1 megabyte per second, which is typically slower than a wired network, but 20 times faster than a dial-up modem.

The expansion of WiFi won’t mean the death of wired networks because consumers still like high-speed connections, Dhar said.

Comcast and other wired Internet providers aren’t too worried about competition.

‘We offer the widest range of content, faster speeds than DSL or WiFi, reliable service and the most secure, integrated high-speed connection to the Internet,’ Andrew Johnson, a Comcast spokesman, said in a statement.

Here are answers to many of the objections that are often raised when free community wireless access projects are proposed. Add the benefit to communities that are vying for tourist dollars and the benefits begin to pile up. Imagine if we had a wireless mesh in dowtown/Old Town Eureka during the Jazz and Blues Festivals and festival goers were sending email out to their friends about how great a time they are having. Maybe evening posting to blogs and uploading photos, right while it’s happening. Fun!