Philadelphia Wi-Fi Rumble
(Sponsor: Lok Technology)
In December, Pennsylvania enacted a telecom "reform" law that among other things curbs local government's ability to set up public Wi-Fi networks as a way of offering inexpensive, high-speed Net access. The law was the result of heavy lobbying by the telecom industry, which argues that a publicly funded data network would enjoy unfair competitive advantages and undercut private investment in setting up or enhancing high-speed networks. The other side of the argument comes from the city of Philadelphia, which has been fighting with Verizon over its plan to set up citywide Wi-Fi. Diana Neff, the city's chief information officer, makes the city's case today on CNET:
"Tell me who among incumbent local exchange carriers (ILECs)--have deployed ubiquitous, high-speed wireless networks that support roaming/mobile capabilities. No ILEC. Who provides high-speed, broadband, ubiquitous services at dial-up rates for the underserved populations? No ILEC. Who is working to get equipment and training into the homes of low-income and disadvantaged portions of our community? Again, no ILEC.I agree with the view that the telecoms want things both ways. They're all for competition and deregulation when it gives them access to new markets. And when someone new wants access to their markets, it's a sin against good sense, private capital, mom, and apple pie.
"... For all the money they've spent lobbying against municipal participation, they could have built the network themselves. The truth, of course, is that the incumbent local exchange carriers want unregulated monopolies over all telecommunications."
None of which automatically makes me embrace Philadelphia's idea. The downside I would fear concerns the efficiency of the system's planning and operation. I'm probably too cynical or jaded about this, but I just don't see a whole lot that cities do to a level of true excellence, or at least the level of excellence one expects from data services. Maybe Neff has the right idea in her opinion piece: a public-private partnership to create the city's network.