August 19, 2005 3:22 PM PDT

Philly narrows Wi-Fi equipment choice

City officials in Philadelphia have whittled down the list of potential suppliers vying for a contract to build its citywide Wi-Fi network.

Wireless Philadelphia, the nonprofit group established to implement the project, has narrowed its choice down to two proposals, one from Hewlett-Packard, the other from EarthLink. A bid from long-distance carrier AT&T is no longer in the running, said city officials.

A final contractor is expected to be named by the middle of September and construction is expected to start in October.

The company that wins the bid will be responsible for designing, deploying and maintaining the network that will provide wireless Internet access using 802.11 Wi-Fi technology across 135 square miles of the city. The project's aim is to provide affordable high-speed Internet access to low-income families. While cable and DSL services are offered in some parts of the city, officials argue that they are too expensive for poorer families.

The project is expected to cost between $15 million and $18 million.

Under its proposal, Hewlett-Packard will use gear from Aptilo Networks, Alvarion, Business Information Group and Tropos Networks. EarthLink is working with Motorola Canopy and Tropos. AT&T's proposal included gear from Lucent Technologies and BelAir Networks.

Philadelphia is among the first major U.S. cities to announce plans to build its own citywide wireless network. The project has faced criticism from local telephone provider Verizon Communications, as well as from the local cable operator, Comcast. Phone companies and cable operators across the country have mounted strong opposition to plans such as Philadelphia's claiming that it allows for a government to compete unfairly for broadband customers.

Despite the phone and cable companies' objections, several other large cities, including New York City and San Francisco, are also considering setting up their own Wi-Fi networks. Earlier this week, San Francisco officials announced they were soliciting proposals from vendors to build its Wi-Fi network.

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Municipal broadband doomed to fail
Don't get me wrong, I live, eat and breath the internet. I, and the company I work for, are working relentlessly on connecting every person and thing to the internet. After all, the network is the computer.

Free or low cost IP broadband is only one small piece in bridging the digital divide. For those of us that pay market rates for IP broadband, we know that the monthly rates are dwarfed by the cost of accessing the IP broadband. I'm referring to the cost of the PC, both acquistion and care and feeding.

Even when PCs go sub $100 as expected, the software (OS, applications, anti-virus, anti-spam, pop-up blockers, disk compression, utilities, etc.) cost and complexity will widen the divide not close it. I'm nervous about making the PC the center of my universe (home, office, auto and mobile) because all of us who are internet junkies know you will do what ever it takes (or costs) to get internet access. We've all paid for and/or spent countless hours on tech support, bought overpriced replacement machines or ran to Kinkos to get our fix. None of which the "home-pageless" folks at the bottom of the divide can or will do.

Thin clients, low/no cost IP broadband and simple, secure and integrateable web services is a proven way to connect the divide. There are more mobile devices with secure SIM cards using simple, secure and integrateable web services than PCs. Municipalities and all ISPs will need to utilize thin clients to acces their hosted simple, secure and integrateable web services. This model works for low/no income subscribers as well as those willing to pay for compelling web services that are simple, secure and integrateable. More importantly, the enterprises, agencies and municipalities that have adopted the thin-client network-centric model are enjoying lower costs, higher security and high levels of stakeholder satisfaction.
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Municipal broadband doomed to fail
Don't get me wrong, I live, eat and breath the internet. I, and the company I work for, are working relentlessly on connecting every person and thing to the internet. After all, the network is the computer.

Free or low cost IP broadband is only one small piece in bridging the digital divide. For those of us that pay market rates for IP broadband, we know that the monthly rates are dwarfed by the cost of accessing the IP broadband. I'm referring to the cost of the PC, both acquistion and care and feeding.

Even when PCs go sub $100 as expected, the software (OS, applications, anti-virus, anti-spam, pop-up blockers, disk compression, utilities, etc.) cost and complexity will widen the divide not close it. I'm nervous about making the PC the center of my universe (home, office, auto and mobile) because all of us who are internet junkies know you will do what ever it takes (or costs) to get internet access. We've all paid for and/or spent countless hours on tech support, bought overpriced replacement machines or ran to Kinkos to get our fix. None of which the "home-pageless" folks at the bottom of the divide can or will do.

Thin clients, low/no cost IP broadband and simple, secure and integrateable web services is a proven way to connect the divide. There are more mobile devices with secure SIM cards using simple, secure and integrateable web services than PCs. Municipalities and all ISPs will need to utilize thin clients to acces their hosted simple, secure and integrateable web services. This model works for low/no income subscribers as well as those willing to pay for compelling web services that are simple, secure and integrateable. More importantly, the enterprises, agencies and municipalities that have adopted the thin-client network-centric model are enjoying lower costs, higher security and high levels of stakeholder satisfaction.
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