It's not easy cutting the cords. Although more than 150 cities have started building municipal Wi-Fi networks, and another 200 or so others are planning public-private partnerships of their own, making citywide wireless work is throwing some cities for a loop.

Mayor Gavin Newsom first proposed that San Francisco go wireless in 2004, but even though the city settled on EarthLink and Google more than a year ago to setup a citywide network with free and fee access, the plan is mired in political debate.

Tall buildings and a tightly-packed population pose tough challenges to building Wi-Fi in the Big Apple, where Wi-Fi for public safety use has just been tested in limited areas. "It's not impossible, but it requires a lot more planning," says intellectual property lawyer Esme Vos, founder of MuniWireless.com.

NPR reported last week that Portland users experienced weak indoor signals on the ad-supported network deployed around 10 percent of the city by MetroFi, of Mountain View, Calif. But the city says it only mandated it work outside: "We can't change the laws of physics," says project manager Logan Kleier.

OK, it's not a city, but plans to build a Wi-Fi mesh across the entire Ocean State were foiled at the end of June when the state's General Assembly turned down a $28.5 million loan for the project.

Plans to build a network in this city of over 140,000 fell apart last week when provider MetroFi sought to have the city pay $90,000 a year for five years (versus zero). "We feel that they haven't lived up to what they promised," a city official told the local paper.

France Telecom took the Paris government to court last week after the city awarded a contract for building free Wi-Fi spots to competitors SFR and Alcatel-Lucent. The company is arguing that the deal creates illegal competition, although France Telecom had itself vied for the same contract.

The Rocky Road to Public Wi-Fi

It's not easy cutting the cords. Although more than 150 cities have started building municipal Wi-Fi networks, and another 200 or so others are planning public-private partnerships of their own, making citywide wireless work is throwing some cities for a loop.

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