April 7, 2005 3:35 PM PDT

Philadelphia reveals Wi-Fi plan

The city of Philadelphia on Thursday unveiled a controversial plan to transform its streets and neighborhoods into a gigantic wireless Internet hotspot.

If approved, the project will offer low-cost wireless broadband access throughout the city's 135-square-mile area. The city will build out the infrastructure and then sell wholesale access to Internet service providers, telecommunications companies and nonprofit organizations. ISPs and other providers will handle all billing, marketing, customer service and the at-home equipment needed to pick up the signals.

Philadelphia will become a customer of the network by allowing city departments to buy broadband access to communicate with one another. As part of this new technology plan, the city will also establish a nonprofit organization that will provide computers and technical training to low-income residents.

The project highlights the growing trend among cities big and small to build out their own broadband access networks. Claiming their cable and local phone companies were dragging their heels over deploying broadband or charging rates too high for lower-income residents, many municipalities have turned to building high-speed Internet networks themselves.

Some of these projects plan to string streets with wireless Internet access ports using Wi-Fi technology. Other projects in smaller or rural municipalities are digging up streets to install speedy fiber-optic lines into homes and businesses.

Not surprisingly, the local Baby Bell phone companies have spoken out against these plans. Verizon Communications supported a Pennsylvania bill barring communities from building their own network, but struck a deal with Philadelphia to allow the city's plans to go forward.

"I reject the idea that this network has to be built because service is not available," said Eric Rabe, vice president of communications at Verizon. "Verizon and Comcast today cover all of Philadelphia. Broadband may not be available the way the city wants it, so they have a right to try something different."

Consumer groups are applauding the plan.

"Combining low-cost access with computers and training, Philadelphia is taking a great leap in bridging the digital divide," said Kenneth DeGraff, a policy advocate at Consumers Union, the publisher of Consumer Reports.

City planners maintain that their wireless project will not compete with the Bells and cable. Rather, the operation will not be for profit and will sell access in bulk at low rates to providers, including Verizon. In the end, residential consumers could get 1mbps of download and upload speeds at prices ranging from $16 to $20 a month.

In contrast, Verizon just introduced a new 3mbps downstream digital subscriber line tier that costs $30 a month and plans to lace houses with fiber-optic lines that are many times faster than DSL. Cable companies have increased speeds to about 4mbps to 5mbps, depending on service provider, for $45 a month.

The report said the plan will cost $10 million to deploy in its first year, with further spending planned down the road for maintenance. The plan set a timetable for breaking even at the fourth year, with all free cash flow at that point reinvested into communities by offering PCs to lower-income residents.

"Initially, we will talk to equipment manufacturers about refurbishing older gear to make (it) available for low-income residents and businesses," Dianah Neff, CIO for the city of Philadelphia, said in a conference call with reporters.

City planners said they will raise funds through bank loans, grants and other "noncity sources."

The service will be up and running by summer 2006, Neff said.

22 comments

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Who going to pay for it?
The city it running the biggest deficits ever, they're closing fire
houses, libraries, puplic pools and museums.... but there's money
for free internet for its low income residents?

What a mayor!
Posted by thetoadstool (2 comments )
Reply Link Flag
RTFA
You said:
"...but there's money
for free internet for
its low income residents?"

From the article:
"The city will build out the
infrastructure and then sell
wholesale access to Internet
service providers,
telecommunications companies
and nonprofit organizations.
ISPs and other providers will
handle all billing, marketing,
customer service and the
at-home equipment needed to
pick up the signals.

Philadelphia will become a
customer of the network by
allowing city departments to
buy broadband access to
communicate with one another."

Later in the article it says:
"Rather, the operation will not
be for profit and will sell access
in bulk at low rates to providers,
including Verizon. In the end,
residential consumers could get
1mbps of download and upload speeds
at prices ranging from $16 to $20 a month."

Free? Apparently this is some definition of the word "free" of which I was previously unaware.
Posted by nealda (105 comments )
Link Flag
Who going to pay for it?
The city it running the biggest deficits ever, they're closing fire
houses, libraries, puplic pools and museums.... but there's money
for free internet for its low income residents?

What a mayor!
Posted by thetoadstool (2 comments )
Reply Link Flag
RTFA
You said:
"...but there's money
for free internet for
its low income residents?"

From the article:
"The city will build out the
infrastructure and then sell
wholesale access to Internet
service providers,
telecommunications companies
and nonprofit organizations.
ISPs and other providers will
handle all billing, marketing,
customer service and the
at-home equipment needed to
pick up the signals.

Philadelphia will become a
customer of the network by
allowing city departments to
buy broadband access to
communicate with one another."

Later in the article it says:
"Rather, the operation will not
be for profit and will sell access
in bulk at low rates to providers,
including Verizon. In the end,
residential consumers could get
1mbps of download and upload speeds
at prices ranging from $16 to $20 a month."

Free? Apparently this is some definition of the word "free" of which I was previously unaware.
Posted by nealda (105 comments )
Link Flag
The power of broadband!
The low income residents of Philadelphia are probably wondering, will this Wi-Fi thing get the crack dealers off their streets?
Posted by Chung Leong (111 comments )
Reply Link Flag
And the answer is...
Quite possibly.
Public investment in this infrastructure project (an area of the economy where the public sector is vastly more competent than the private sector) has the potential to enable new business investment (public and private) in areas of the city that have become blighted. Robust infrastructure creates opportunities where none existed before. Opportunity gives a choice to inner-city youth who's only previous choice was crime.
Posted by nealda (105 comments )
Link Flag
The power of broadband!
The low income residents of Philadelphia are probably wondering, will this Wi-Fi thing get the crack dealers off their streets?
Posted by Chung Leong (111 comments )
Reply Link Flag
And the answer is...
Quite possibly.
Public investment in this infrastructure project (an area of the economy where the public sector is vastly more competent than the private sector) has the potential to enable new business investment (public and private) in areas of the city that have become blighted. Robust infrastructure creates opportunities where none existed before. Opportunity gives a choice to inner-city youth who's only previous choice was crime.
Posted by nealda (105 comments )
Link Flag
This is an outrage!
For those of you who have been following this story (please correct me if I am wrong), but wasn't the concept here supposed to be FREE wireless for the masses (aka paid for by tax payer). This was a good concept. But no, Big Business had to cry foul to the governor because of pure greed.
I am not trying to say that business should not be involved here. They should get paid. But by the city agreeing to this, they are basically opening the door and allowing business to walk right in to the consumer's house and try to sell them more services.
I think this should all be done at a flat rate and the city should pay for it and recoup their money thorugh taxes.

That's my two cents worth.
Can't wait to see how htis plays out in Dallas, Texas if they ever get off their arse and do something like this.
Posted by Charles.H.White (3 comments )
Reply Link Flag
This is an outrage!
For those of you who have been following this story (please correct me if I am wrong), but wasn't the concept here supposed to be FREE wireless for the masses (aka paid for by tax payer). This was a good concept. But no, Big Business had to cry foul to the governor because of pure greed.
I am not trying to say that business should not be involved here. They should get paid. But by the city agreeing to this, they are basically opening the door and allowing business to walk right in to the consumer's house and try to sell them more services.
I think this should all be done at a flat rate and the city should pay for it and recoup their money thorugh taxes.

That's my two cents worth.
Can't wait to see how htis plays out in Dallas, Texas if they ever get off their arse and do something like this.
Posted by Charles.H.White (3 comments )
Reply Link Flag
 

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