Philadelphia Sold Communities Down

By Carol Ellison  |  Posted 2005-04-11 Print this article Print

the River"> Its just those kinds of communities, however, that Philadelphia sold down the river when it agreed to drop its opposition to Pennsylvania House Bill 30. Thats the bill, adopted by the Pennsylvania legislature and signed by the governor last year, that effectively gives incumbent carriers monopolistic control over—and the ability to nix—city ambitions for municipal broadband, including muni Wi-Fi. In exchange, Verizon, the incumbent carrier in Philadelphia and the one that stood to gain the most from H.B. 30, agreed not to exercise that control and to allow the city to do its own thing.
Click here to read more about Wi-Fi-related House Bill 30.
Earlier this week the Philadelphia Inquirer reported on a study conducted by the National Cable and Telecommunications Association. The NCTA, a group with an obvious bias in the matter, said its poll of 400 Philadelphians found "lukewarm support for the plan, strong suspicions of Mayor Street, and grave doubts about Philadelphias future." According to the Inquirer, "the poll found that about 35 percent of respondents favored the initiative, while 28 percent opposed it. After being read paragraphs expressing proponents and opponents views of the wireless initiative, 61 percent opposed it, while 29 percent supported it." (Care to speculate about the objectivity of those paragraphs?) Muni advocate Bonnie Riedel said that the telecom and cable industries are "making a national fight out of it," referring to the use of the Philadelphia project to ram through similar legislation in other states. NCTA spokesman Brian Dietz countered, "Many cable providers have suspicions about government investing increasingly scarce taxpayer resources in creating a wireless network where the private sector provides them with cutting-edge technology." So you believe for a moment that the bleeding hearts of the telecom and cable industries stay up nights worrying about how your cities are spending your tax dollars? If anyone really believes its not their own increasingly scarce resources these companies are worried about, take a took at Trends in U.S. Broadband Adoption, a report from Research and Market. It puts a fine point on whats happening to resources in the broadband world. The report predicts that broadband prices in the United States "will continue to feel pressure from the low-end with high-speed dial-up services and from the high-end as DSL providers look to wage a price war on their cable brethren. The next few years are going to be very interesting for both consumers and broadband service providers." Throw low-cost, even free, municipal Wi-Fi service into the mix and you get a good picture of the future the industry faces if broadband goes egalitarian. Click here to read about successful municipal Wi-Fi projects in other cities. But the Philadelphia project is as threatening to the push for municipal Wi-Fi as it is to the telecoms and cable companies right now. It hangs over both sides of the issue like a Sword of Damocles. Theres almost nothing about the Philadelphia program that in any way resembles successful municipal wireless programs deployed elsewhere. To start with, most are in much smaller cities. Phillys program is as massive in its bureaucracy as it is in its scope. It may not fail but its certainly bound for a rocky road. And if it does fail, opponents of municipal wireless will use it to bludgeon munis to death in the many state legislatures where anti-muni bills linger. Click here to read how Pennsylvanias House Bill 30 threw a wrench into one Pennsylvania citys plans for broadband expansion. Having gotten its cake, Philadelphia pushed every other Pennsylvania citys muni Wi-Fi ambitions out in the rain. Now, as a "model" for the nation, it threatens to do the same for everyone else. Editors Note: This story was updated to include corrected project funding information. Carol Ellison is editor of the eWEEK Mobile & Wireless Topic Center. She has worked as a technology journalist since 1986 and has covered the wireless industry since 2000. Check out eWEEK.coms for the latest news, reviews and analysis on mobile and wireless computing.

Carol Ellison is editor of's Mobile & Wireless Topic Center. She has authored whitepapers on wireless computing (two on network security–,Securing Wi-Fi Wireless Networks with Today's Technologies, Wi-Fi Protected Access: Strong, Standards-based Interoperable Security for Today's Wi-Fi Networks, and Wi-Fi Public Access: Enabling the future with public wireless networks.

Ms. Ellison served in senior and executive editorial positions for Ziff Davis Media and CMP Media. As an executive editor at Ziff Davis Media, she launched the networking track of The IT Insider Series, a newsletter/conference/Web site offering targeted to chief information officers and corporate directors of information technology. As senior editor at CMP Media's VARBusiness, she launched the Web site, VARBusiness University, an online professional resource center for value-added resellers of information technology.

Ms. Ellison has chaired numerous industry panels and has been quoted as a networking and educational technology expert in The New York Times, Newsday, The Los Angeles Times and The Wall Street Journal, National Public Radio's All Things Considered, CNN Headline News, WNBC and CNN/FN, as well as local and regional Comcast and Cablevision reports. Her articles have appeared in most major hi-tech publications and numerous newspapers and magazines, including The Washington Post and The Christian Science Monitor.

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