Several weeks after St. Cloud, Fla., launched what analysts say is the country's first free citywide Wi-Fi network, educators and many residents in this 28,000-person Orlando suburb are still paying to use their own internet service providers, as dead spots and weak signals keep them offline and force engineers to retool the free system.

The same troubles with this small town's big internet project could be lessons for municipalities--and school districts--from Philadelphia to San Francisco as they consider similar networks.

St. Cloud officials are spending more than $2 million on


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