Government Policy and Wireless City Networks: A Comparative Analysis of Motivations, Goals, Services and their Relation to Network Structure

28 February 2016

Wireless City Networks are a recent, but growing phenomenon. In the United States hundreds of cities are looking into the possibility of rolling out Wi-Fi or WiMax based networks over substantial parts of the city. The underlying rationale is that wireless city networks are cheap and flexible alternatives for fixed broadband networks. Cities more and more see broadband Internet access as a necessary and therefore public utility to be provided to their communities at affordable prices or even free of charge. The deployment of wireless city networks is however more than just infrastructure provision. Initiatives are linked to broader city policies related to digital divide, city renewal, stimulation of innovation, stimulation of tourism, strengthening the economic fabric of the city, etc. In this article we will argue that explicit and implicit goals are directly linked to the coverage and topology of networks, the technology used, price and service modalities, etc. Furthermore we will argue that the differences in context between the US and Europe explain the different infrastructural trajectories taken. Overall and on the basis of empirical findings we caution for the overoptimistic view that Wi-Fi-based wireless city networks are an equal alternative for providing broadband access. There are both financial and technological uncertainties, which could have a serious impact on the performance of these initiatives.