Earthlink cuts 900 jobs, tries to transform muni wireless biz

EarthLink -- formerly the name in municipal Wi-Fi -- has been signaling its exit from the business of building wireless networks for cities without getting paid upfront. Tuesday, CEO Rolla P.

EarthLink -- formerly the name in municipal Wi-Fi -- has been signaling its exit from the business of building wireless networks for cities without getting paid upfront. Tuesday, CEO Rolla P. Huff dropped the axe, announcing a restructuring and the layoff of 900 employees.

"While we recognize this is a difficult time for those affected individuals, this was a needed action for the company to better align our cost structure with our existing business," he said in a statement.

Earthlink is also laying off Don Berryman, its president of municipal networks.

TopTechNews.com interviewed Craig Settles, who has long criticized the building ot muni wireless networks just to provide free access across cities.

"I think that we are at a much-needed point of getting the focus back to where it belongs," Craig Settles, a municipal wireless consultant and author of the book "Fighting the Good Fight for Municipal Wireless," said in a phone interview.

The explosion of Earthlink signing up cities who want their own free wireless networks was something of a Frankenstein monster that threatened to swallow the whole company, Settles said.

Now that companies like Earthlink are telling cities to put up by signing up as anchor tenants on the networks, politicians are swinging the other way, putting out RFPs to other companies to get their networks for free.

"Cities don't want it if it's not free," he added. "That's just plain silly. Municipal networks offer significant value to a city and key constituents as an anchor tenant. To just go from one knee-jerk reaction to another is absurd."

What's the right model? Wireless networks make sense if cities use them to innovate business processes, he said, such as facilitating mobile workforce apps and managing or tracking fixed and mobile assets. Another key win: enabling remote health care:

In Glendale, California, "they realized that if they could do remote monitoring electronically through a city network" of the people who regularly use the emergency room as their primary health care provider, "you can take a tremendous load off the emergency room," he said. Making health care more efficient, he explained, could have ripple effects throughout a city's budget.