Is Wi-Fi worthwhile or a wireless waste?

To some it’s the best thing since sliced bread. Others dismiss it as a waste of taxpayer money. The subject of this controversy is Wi-Fi — or more specifically, municipally funded Wi-Fi broadband.

Among those that sing its paeans are officials in the city of Fredericton.

The city, which charges no access fees on its municipal Wi-Fi network, sees the technology as a piece in an economic development puzzle.

“The focus is on making the people more productive and successful,” said Don Fitzgerald, executive director of Team Fredericton, the city’s economic development office.

“We want to create the environment where we can be an innovative community that compares itself to any other in North America,” he said. Fredericton currently has between 110 and 125 802.11g Wi-Fi access points and hopes to have three times that many by the end of 2005.

The network makes sense for Fredericton, because it has two universities and is the seat of the provincial government, Fitzgerald said. Not everyone believed municipalities should be in the business of providing free Wi-Fi access .

A U.S.-based research group, the New Millenium Research Council, recently released a report that debunked municipally funded Wi-Fi broadband networks as an utter waste of taxpayer money and hinder private-sector Wi-Fi rollouts.

Authored by a variety of think tank experts, the report stated there are “grave flaws” in city-run Wi-Fi networks. It concluded: Wi-Fi networks would likely cost more than cities anticipate; public funds used for Wi-Fi could be better used elsewhere; municipal Wi-FI net

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