EarthLink announced today that it is “cutting the cord” or “pulling the plug” on its Wi-Fi network in Philadelphia (don’t excuse the impossible pun), once thought to be the national model for wireless Internet access.
Because of the decrease in dial-up Internet subscribers EarthLink tried to move into an untapped form of Internet delivery on a wide scale. The idea was to pepper wireless stations throughout the city that would broadcast an Internet signal. Subscribers could then connect using their user name and password, just like a wireless home network. This idea not only benefited the city, who could charge rent for allowing EarthLink to place their equipment on light posts, but also people who hated wires and EarthLink itself as an Internet provider.
EarthLink’s $17 million investment, along with its lofty promise, has turned into a failure. They projected a minimum of 100,000 users, but currently retain only 9,457 subscribers. Due to these low numbers, EarthLink stated they are losing $200,000 a month maintaining the network. Their subscribers don’t even cover half of the operating costs. In fact, EarthLink wasn’t able give away the network to nonprofits, even after offering an additional $1 million. The city has even refused to take over the network based on the sheer fact that it would cost taxpayers millions of dollars a year to maintain it.
“It’s been an unfortunate situation,” EarthLink Chief Executive Officer Rolla Huff told The Associated Press. “It was a great idea a few years ago…but it’s an idea that simply didn’t make it.”
Huff said EarthLink plans to stay focused on serving individuals using dial-up Internet service and casual Internet surfers who want an economical plan.
You would think that with all of the mobile devices that connect to Wi-Fi these days, this technology would be of tremendous value. Perhaps it still is, but the implementation was poor. It will be interesting to see if another company steps up to the challenge, or if wired will continue to rule. I suspect that it won’t, especially with the deployment of 3G in the US; but for now it seems that’s the way things will go.