The Failure of Public WiFi

18 Pages Posted: 8 May 2009 Last revised: 18 Oct 2013

Date Written: September 28, 2008


This short piece describes the failure of the widespread plans to provide public wireless internet access. It identifies three interrelated types of causes for the near-universal failure of these ambitious plans: regulatory, technical, and economic. Essentially, most municipalities opted to use WiFi to provide internet access because residents’ computers already supported WiFi and because FCC regulations do not require operating licenses for WiFi. But the regulations around this unlicensed technology restrict its operation. Combining these regulatory restrictions with the physical limitations of signals on WiFi’s frequency led to a technology inadequate to blanket a city in wireless internet signals. Finally, the business plans for public WiFi both failed to anticipate how residents would actually use the service and failed to anticipate that the private telecommunications sector would soon provide high-speed wireless internet access using better-suited technologies such as 3G.

Keywords: WiFi, wireless, internet, market failure, 3G

Suggested Citation

Fraser, Eric M., The Failure of Public WiFi (September 28, 2008). Journal of Technology Law & Policy, Vol. 14, No. 2, p. 161, December 2009, Available at SSRN:

Eric M. Fraser (Contact Author)

Osborn Maledon, PA ( email )

2929 North Central Avenue
Suite 2100
Phoenix, AZ 85012
United States
602-640-9321 (Phone)

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