With more than 85% of American adults having access to the Internet, and with 70% of adults making use of high-speed broadband in their homes, it’s easy to understand why people have almost become spoiled when it comes to expecting Internet access. High-speed broadband and Wi-Fi technology have almost gotten to the point where people are surprised when they can’t find a Wi-Fi signal to use, no matter where they are.
And there’s good reason for people to have that type of attitude--free public Wi-Fi options are plentiful and expanding continuously. You’ll find Wi-Fi available in many places where people congregate, such as government buildings, downtown areas, restaurants, and sports arenas. Often times, the Wi-Fi is free for anyone to use.
Municipal Wi-Fi Networks
The idea of cities setting up and offering free public Wi-Fi networks for their residents and visitors has been around for more than a decade. Yet such projects have had mixed results over the years.
Municipalities began setting up broadband Wi-Fi networks in large part as a public safety measure. Police and fire departments are using equipment that requires broadband data access, and some cities felt they could save money by building their own Wi-Fi networks, rather than paying fees to carry the data over existing cellular networks.
Early Municipal Network Failures
Because the Wi-Fi networking standard was originally designed as an indoor standard, it hasn’t always transitioned well to usage outdoors, which is where some cities expect it to work, such as when serving a downtown entertainment district with numerous outdoor cafes. As Wi-Fi technology became more in tune with outdoor usage, cities found that their networks became obsolete relatively quickly without a constant infusion of new infrastructure.
One of the more famous city-wide Wi-Fi networks, created by Google in the home of its corporate headquarters, Mountain View, Calif., experienced early success after its 2006 introduction. But inconsistent service several years later, brought on in part by out-of-date hardware, caused the Mountain View network to be taken off line. Google now is in the process of reintroducing public Wi-Fi to Mountain View.
Public Wi-Fi Successes
As you can see from the infographic included here, new municipal Wi-Fi networks are still being deployed. California and Michigan have the most large-scale public Wi-Fi access areas among states, but plans for new networks have been announced throughout the United States. Some of the recent announcements include:
- Austin. Recently announced a new Wi-Fi network with free access for Time Warner Cable customers.
- Kansas City. Recently announced plans to offer free Wi-Fi on some buses and at some bus stops.
- New York City. Recently announced plans to provide public Wi-Fi in underground subway stations and using landline phone booths to house routers.
- San Francisco. Recently announced free Wi-Fi in many public parks and recreation areas.
- San Jose. Recently announced “wickedly fast” public Wi-Fi.
Because such municipal networks continually are being announced in various locations in the United States and elsewhere in the world, it will pay dividends for you to keep up with the latest announcements for your location. While free public Wi-Fi may not have quite enough speed or reliability to allow you to replace your personal in-home Wi-Fi network, it is great to have an idea of where you can access free Wi-Fi before you leave home for a night of entertainment.