Municipal Wifi in Tapei

Michael Giberson

The NYTimes has a story on municipal WiFi, focused on Tapei, Tiawan. You get a sense of the story line from the title: “What if They Built an Urban Wireless Network and Hardly Anyone Used It?”

That such a vast and reasonably priced wireless network has attracted so few users in an otherwise tech-hungry metropolis should give pause to civic leaders in Chicago, Philadelphia and dozens of other American cities that are building wireless networks of their own.

Like Taipei, these cities hope to use their new networks to help less affluent people get online and to make their cities more business-friendly. Yet as Taipei has found out, just building a citywide network does not guarantee that people will use it…

“There is a lot of hype about public access,” said Craig J. Settles, a technology consultant in Oakland, Calif., and author of “Fighting the Good Fight for Municipal Wireless.” “What’s missing from a lot of these discussions is what people are willing to pay for.”

The problem isn’t technology, so much as business model, the story reports.

But even if Q-Ware meets its target this year, the company will need 500,000 users in a given month to break even, a target it is not expected to hit for several more years, according to Chou Yun-tsai, the chairwoman of Taipei’s Research, Development and Evaluation Commission, which oversees the WiFly project.

“It’s a huge task,” Ms. Chou said.

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