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The promise of a low cost or free wireless access system for the city of Winston-Salem began roughly ten years ago with WinstonNet taking the lead in 2001. Winston-Salem was not the first to go down the road of wireless Internet Access for the masses and cities such as Portland, OR and Philadelphia, PA have rolled out projects much larger in scope and hope than WinstonNet however those hopes may be nothing more than a pipe dream at this point. Recently major backers of these large municipal projects such as Earthlink have backed out leaving the various cities literally talking to themselves over what to do. In fact a recent Philadelphia City Council Hearing on the status of the Earthlink contract with the city Earthlink didn’t even bother to show up.

Just about all the major cities with wireless plans have either tabled, stalled or given up on proceeding. Cities such as Chicago, Houston, Miami and San Francisco all had agreements with Earthlink and now have no idea if their projects will ever be developed. If these guys with the backing of an Internet Service Provider who of course was looking at making a profit fail what chance does Winston-Salem have of deploying the free or low cost wireless Internet service without the use of tax dollars?

The reasons for the failure of these large projects is mainly linked to rising cost and lower fees for competitive services. With DSL and Cable providers rolling out a number of lower rate structures and cell phone providers increasing their data speeds there is little reason for the public to pay much attention to municipal wireless projects. Projects like the one in Tempe, AZ where they rolled out tons of equipment to provide Internet Access for $20 have failed in less than two years when the access provider cut all service due to lack of subscribers. Other projects such as St. Cloud’s in Florida have proven a success but cost the city over 3 million in tax dollars.

There is some hope for such projects to work but it results in the use of tax dollars which WinstonNet says they will not do. An example of a working solution may be in Minneapolis where the city has agreed to be the anchor much like a Food Lion in a strip mall. The city will basically pay for a bottom end number of users, city workers and such, so the access provider is not losing money then the profit is made on the rest of the subscribers. Even if nobody subscribes the provider can’t lose money so hopefully won’t shut their doors a few years down the road.

So will Winston-Salem see free or low cost Wireless Internet Access?

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