In major shift, AT&T building a muni wireless

Seeing new business opportunities instead of a threat, AT&T will build, own and operate a network for Springfield, Ill. No charge to the city.

As SBC, the nation's largest telephone company was virulently opposed to municipal Wi-Fi. Along with Verizon, SBC led legislative efforts to make it illegal for cities to operate wireless networks.

Now, as AT&T, the phone company is ready to build a large-scale wireless network for the city of Springfield, Ill. As the Financial Times notes, this would be an important shift in the attitude of the phone companies and could herald a major ramping up of muni wireless.

AT&T, which already operates more than 34,000 small-scale WiFi “hotspots” in more than 80 countries, said it saw municipal WiFi projects as an opportunity to complement their existing services, rather than a threat.

“We see this as a growth opportunity,” said Eric Shepcaro, AT&T’s senior vice-president of business development.

It's not a feel-good loss leader, either, the company says. AT&T views the Springfield project as a hot business opportunity and expects it to be profitable. AT&T would own and operate the networks and it would charge the city nothing. The business model: Basic free, higher-quality for a premium, and advertising revenues. The city plans to use the network for municipal data traffic and for public safety communications.