Community WiFi project fades away in LA

by Steve Blum • , , ,

On the shelf.

A community-based WiFi access initiative that I wrote about three years ago has hit some rough waters, according to a story in the Los Angeles Times. Manchester Community Technologies embarked on a project to get local businesses in economically depressed areas to share Internet connections and power a WiFi network managed by Manchester. Initially, they were serving 1,500 people a month, and running on a grant from the California Public Utilities Commission. But initial burst of volunteer enthusiasm faded along with the funding.

According to the Times, the project wasn’t sustainable

But today, most of those networks and hot spots don’t link to the Internet.

In an initial survey late last year, The Times checked seven parks and 11 network locations, finding no Wi-Fi at any of them. A follow-up survey in March found network signals at three of the eight parks and 16 community locations but could not obtain a connection on any of them. The best results were on a section of Crenshaw Boulevard in Leimert Park where several businesses were broadcasting free Wi-Fi on a community network.

The money – about $500,000 according to the Times – came from the California Advanced Services Fund, via a regional broadband consortia grant. Pushing free WiFi out into low income communities is a nice idea, but without permanent subsidies from someone, it’s not going to last.

It’s easy to call Manchester’s project a failure – because, evidently, it did fail – but if lessons were learned, documented and published, then it would also be a successful experiment. The freedom to fail is what gives Silicon Valley its entrepreneurial energy. It’s not the failures who suffer in the long run, it’s those who do not learn from the experience.