Friday, April 08, 2005

City Wi-Fi plan unveiled

Yesterday the City announced its plan for its City-wide wireless internet network. The main plan is that the City will start a non-profit, "Wireless Philadelphia," which will be in charge of getting everything up and running, and then selling wholesale access to the network to local ISPs, who will then sell it to all of us, at a price of like 16 or 20 dollars a month.

Of course, the non-naysayers still have negative things to say. Take Frank Rizzo, who has swung as wildly at this project as Pat Burrell at an outside slider. First, Rizzo compared our little Wi-Fi program to Boston's nororious "big dig," in of the better overstatements I have seen in a while. Then, when it turns out the City has come up with foundation grants to pay for a lot of the cost, Rizzo simply said, "They wont last forever!" Next he will invoke 9/11 or something.

From the article:
Neff said the city would serve as an "anchor tenant" for the wireless network, using it to enable meter readers, building inspectors, and other city workers in the field to access or input crucial data. The city also will provide light-post access for the network's hardware.

No city funds are to be used for the network, which will cost $10 million to build. Neff said Wireless Philadelphia would tap foundation grants, low-interest bank loans, and taxable bonds.

Some proceeds are to go to training programs for people who don't know how to use computers.


City Council member Frank Rizzo, the chief local critic of the plan, said he still suspected that taxpayers would end up footing the bill for wireless access. "Foundation grants aren't forever," he said.

A poll commissioned last month by a cable industry trade group also found that Philadelphians rated city wireless access a far lower priority than crime or schools. The poll also found doubts about administration assertions that the initiative would boost the city's standing in the global digital economy.

But others, such as Intel Corp., maker of computer chips, and Staples Inc., the office-supply company, have lauded the effort. Both corporations are both providing free assistance to Philadelphia's wireless effort.

Despite the voices of doubt, speakers at the kickoff press conference appeared particularly pleased by the effect on the city's low-tech reputation.

"I have not seen an initiative gain more immediate positive attention for the city, both internationally and nationally, [than] this one," said Ed Schwartz, a former City Council member who served on the wireless executive committee that crafted the plan.

A longtime technology advocate, Schwartz runs a nonprofit organization that has a $150,000 contract with the city to maintain a Web site about city neighborhoods.
Here is what this whole thing is about: Vision. You want to talk about a positive vision for the City, how about this one? I know Intel and the like are fronting some money for the project because in the end, the more computer savvy, internet ready people, the better for them. Well, on that note, how about getting some of our numerous foundation folks together with Microsoft, IBM, Dell, Gateway, etc, and propose a plan that Philly become a totally digital city, where every poor kid in the entire City has a computer in their home? Can you imagine the difference it would make, in a City where something like 40 percent of us are not online? And, given that you can equip someone with an decent, internet ready computer for 3 or 4 hundred dollars, it is feasible. Who knows, we may find that the next Bill Gates is actually sitting in a rowhome in South Philly, waiting for someone to give him or her some basic tools to succeed.

And for 20 dollars or less a month, I will be signing up myself.


At 9:23 AM, Blogger Charles said...

Yeah, I think that there are two big reasons to have wireless access everywhere. The first, is to bridge the digital divide, which I am all for, but will not get this ball rolling. The second is to keep tech savvy people in the city and to keep gadget hungry YUPI’s in the city, even if it is just for a longer period of time during the day in which they would spend more money here before going home to the picket fence house in the Burbs. That, and the fact that having a tech savvy City builds a great economic foundation for business will get this ball rolling.

At 11:29 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Don't people need computers first?

At 11:38 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think it would be better to make sure everyone in the city had ACCESS to a good hookup. Libraries, schools, and other public venues might make better sense than giving every kid a pc, as it might be sold and the money used for something else (heat, maybe, or groceries). Keep the neighborhood libraries staffed and open and wired and you will be going a long way towards decreasing the digital divide

At 12:09 PM, Blogger DanielUA said...


In terms of access, a few things:

Yes, people need computers first. That is why we need leaders to come together (from Govt, business, and foundations) and figure out ways to get computers into homes. If a decent, internet capable computer can be had for 350 dollars, what if foundations, et al found a way to fund half of that? How many people would buy computers then?

And, no, I dont think most people would sell their computers. Even in the poorest neighborhoods in Philly, most people have TVs, or multiple TVs. The key is to get the presence of a computer to be just as normal.

And, there is a huge, huge difference between library access and private access in homes. Yes, obviously, fund the libraries, teach people how to use the net, etc. But, having people stand in line for 30 minutes of access or whatever, just does not seem very feasible to me, and is not really bridging the digital divide. In the 21st century, you need regular access to the internet. And kids, first and foremost, need to be able to screw around on computers, and have them become a part of their daily lives.

Again, its vision.

At 12:41 PM, Anonymous Aaron Couch said...

I agree that this would be great for the city in all the ways stated. But I'm not sure if people know how critical this is.

The way in which internet access and cable are distributed will have a huge impact on our lives in the next ten to fifteen years. As broadband and television converge, this platform will be the dominant medium through which we communicate, interact, and see the world.

Is this going to be levied and controlled by corporations? Is it going to answer to the public interest?

Comcast and co are lobbying hard to make sure that cities like philly can't offer these services publicly.

Communication is a fundamental human right (see article 19 UN Declaration on Human Rights). I see this issue in the same vein as water rights, access to health care, biotech, etc.

Right now, a wireless package offered by the city wouldn't change all that much (so a few people can log in fron Rittenhouse Squ etc). But it is an important precedent and has huge implications down the road.

At 1:35 PM, Anonymous dragonballyee said...

there are projects out there for the children of "third world" to bridge the digital divide. MIT has taken a leading role by developing a $100 laptop that is WiFi enabled.

At 2:22 PM, Blogger DanielUA said...

Hey Aaron-

I wrote this on an earlier post. But, as someone who obviously has some important things to say, you should consider writing for Young Philly Politics.

At 6:46 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

FTR, Microsoft is building a new high school in the city in conjunction with Vallas and the SRC.


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