The End-User Cost of Muni-networks

Also published on the Wireless Community blog

I’m a big fan of what’s going on in Philadelphia, but this article in The Philadelphia Inquirer has me thinking that maybe all of this talk about the end user cost of muni-networks is, in part, wrong.

One way that most Community Wireless networks are different from other broadband networks is that they view their wireless service as supplemental. In other words, NYCwireless wouldn’t ever expect to be the only Internet service that a person uses. This is true for most CWNs, expecially those in urban places.

As such, our pricing models expect that usage of the networks is an add on to a user’s already expensive broadband connection. This is one way that commercial Wi-Fi is different, and why so many people are unhappy about the high prices. Is the $30 per month (or thereabout) price of a T-Mobile Wi-Fi a supplemental service fee, or is it a primary broadband connection fee?

I already pay over $100 per month for my DSL at home. I’m not going to pay another $20 or $30 per month just to get Wi-Fi periodically. And neither are most other people (discount the road-warrior types who’s businesses pay for their supplemental internet fees).

We need a more sophisticated pricing model. And this is what bothers me about the Philadelphia prices. The Philly network imagines that it is the primary broadband connection for people living in the city. But what about all of the people who already have $40-$60 home DSL and cablemodems? Wireless Philadelphia should make sense for them as well, except they won’t really use it at home, just when they are away from home.

I think this is critical for the project’s success. What is the right price for supplemental Internet? I personally would pay about $5 total for all other broadband I would use outside of my home. I suspect that this pricing is about what other people would be willing to pay as well. This type of pricing model respects existing broadband service, and offers the opportunity for Philadelphia to capture more of the market. It also acknowledges that one company/organization can’t solve the universal broadband issue by itself.

Who says that I should only have 1 broadband connection? Telcos, cable companies, WISPs, and any other broadband provider must embrace this view of the market, because its the way things will be in the future.