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Why muni Wi-Fi is so important to Earthlink

Now that telcos and cables don't have to provide access to third parties like Earthlink, municipal Wi-Fi networks are increasingy important.

For companies like Earthlink, which have been dependent on telephone and cable companies to provide access to their networks, municipal wireless is becoming an increasingly important strategy, for the very reasons that cables and telcos are so opposed. Muni Wi-Fi is the creation of alternative infrastructure, which just possibly might not be owned and operated by the companies that already enjoy government-granted monopolies. So says Garry Betty, Earthlink's CEO, in an interview with News.com.

... [I]t's important for you to own some infrastructure yourself, right?

Betty: It's important to have an alternative to broadband and cable in order to create some real competition. For 75 percent of the country, I can't provision an EarthLink service over the cable plant. With networks like the one Philadelphia is developing, we'll have another option beyond the telephone network to give consumers a choice, where that choice today doesn't exist.

Is that why EarthLink has chosen to build the wireless network in Philadelphia instead of just leasing capacity from another provider, like Hewlett-Packard?

Betty: We've been so disenchanted with our ability to get access to broadband pipes that we felt like we needed to take a more proactive stand. We would prefer to be a nonfacilities-based provider. But if you don't have the people who own the network willing to sell it to you at a price where you can make a living, you have to change the name of the game. This is part of changing the name of the game.

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Would you say Wi-Fi is essential to EarthLink's strategy going forward?

Betty: It's a piece of the strategy, but Wi-Fi isn't going to displace a very high-speed connection. As a very cost-effective alternative to entry-level broadband and as a way to provide customers a better always-on higher-speed solution, this very much fits the bill.

What about broadband over power line?

Betty: That's a very important technology. There's been a lot of testing over the past 10 years. Soon you'll start seeing some large-scale commercial deployment of broadband over power line in the United States.

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