Rizzo compares the Philly project to infamous Boston road project, the big dig. (If anyone doesn't know, the big dig is the billion dollars over budget Boston road project that has gone on for years.) The comparisons are just silly. And, as an aside, Rizzo comparing the project to the by far most infamous municipal project is a similar debate tactic to when people compare a quote from a politician to something that was said in the Third Reich- it is just dumb. In fact, I think there is an understood rule in debating that the first person to bring up Hitler loses. Well, when discussing municipal works, the first person to bring up the big dig should be similarly disqualified, because it is so out there, that it is useless as a comparator.
More than a decade ago, city officials promised to relieve traffic congestion with a new tunnel and street infrastructure, for a $2 billion tab. But today, with a running bill of more than $15 billion, the project is six years overdue and counting, while cracks in the tunnel's infrastructure are being discovered.
As the most expensive public works project in U.S. history, it has become a boondoggle. The Big Dig, it turns out, became a black hole for taxpayer dollars because city administrators and contractors weren't candid with state and local legislators about project costs, instead selling them on unrealistically low estimates.
Information technology professionals experienced in deploying large-scale Wi-Fi networks all tell us that significantly higher build-out costs, involving literally thousands of access points, will be required to deliver secure, scalable and reliable services, with user speeds greater than 1 megabit per second. And these don't include costs associated with much-needed network redundancy, customer service, antihacking security measures, billing and other administrative costs. Under these conditions, the cost of truly building out an advanced network could skyrocket.
I would assume Rizzo would agree that 11 million versus 15 billion is an inherently different proposition? And his point that the project involves "thousands of access" points you have to build? That just seems silly. This is not like we are talking about constructing towers here. You are essentially throwing up wireless routers on top of light posts, which is partly why infrastructure costs are reasonably low- there is not much building needed.
He also talks about how other cities have failed in similar type projects. The Inky article has some other experts who adequately dismiss his points here, so I will not address them here.
Rizzo also says silly things like this:
Further competition among wireless providers has already produced 93 "hot spots" in the city of Philadelphia as hundreds of wireless ISPs, big and small, compete for a slice of the action. The notion that we would use precious taxpayer subsidies to disrupt that competition--competition that would otherwise help bring service to underserved areas--seems a bit odd.I guess I cannot confirm or deny Rizzo's numbers, but I will just say, if he is counting things like Starbucks as among these hotspots then he is being intentionally misleading, to put it charitably. And, where exactly, does he see evidence that this competition will bring service to underserved areas? He doesn't of course, he just makes it up.
Rizzo similarly says that Wi-fi will not close the digital divide because it will not deal with the fact that poor people do not have computers in their homes. So, in other words, instead of trying to come up with ways to make that happen (hell, even I have an idea for making it happen), he gives up.
It is a shame that the Councilman, instead of thinking on how to use this project as a great social equalizer for poor people all over the City, is willing to take the Verizon/Comcast company line that we should just let them do whatever they feel, at whatever speed they feel like doing it. And, if this project were going to be such a disaster, why would the big telecoms be fighting so visciously against it? They are screaming "unfair," which tells you that they obviously think it can work.
Yes, Philly is in some tight budget times. And, of course, the project could fail. But, we should never shy from being visionaries. As the NY Times stated, Philly could be the tipping point towards a country wide effort to ensure that poor people everywhere have access to the internet, and in cities across the country, you never are "off-line." Considering we are a City that finds millions of dollars of incentives for businesses and developers (which have on occasion left us with 40 million dollar holes in the ground), we can figure out a way to come up with this money. With all things, you must measure the risk/reward. Here, the scales are clearly tilted towards the reward, and so, the City builds.