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Leading Edge Wireless: Philadelphia Versus The Right Wing

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Australia has turned all of Sydney into a high-speed hot-spot, and users get much faster broadband service than we do – for less.

In America, on the other hand, the political right wing is trying to kill a similar low-cost system.

The battleground is in Philadelphia right now, but all was peaches and cream in 2002.

Back then, businesses were backing the One Economy Corporation‘s efforts to bring low-income Americans into the economic mainstream. One Economy was working to provide "digital inclusion" for residents of affordable housing by helping wire buildings, the acquisition of computers and with special localized content. Their Beehive site provided information about money, health, school, jobs and family. Cisco, for example, was helping, and proud of its efforts to Bridge the Digital Divide. (Story links open in new windows)

By the following year One Economy had expanded to 12 cities. Telephony Online described their work in bringing broadband to low-income residents in the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood of Brooklyn [Broadband For Everyone 2/24/03]. Senators Orrin Hatch (R-UT) and John Kerry (D-MA) introduced a bill that would amend the tax code to include broadband availability as one of the factors in determining low-income housing credits. The Beehive now provided health care assistance and jobs listings in English and Spanish.

The government liked this and came up with the E-rate program to help subsidize the wiring of schools and public libraries, as well as efforts to provide broadband to rural areas. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-TN) and then-Minority-Leader Tom Daschle (D-SD) backed the efforts.

And then last year Philadelphia decided to provide poorer neighborhoods with wi-fi hot-spots. With less wiring required, broadband access would be less expensive. Families could buy computers for $120 and get high-speed access for $10 a month. [Program Aids Urban Poor In Accessing The Internet 08/09/04]

So Verizon got pissed.

Verizon lobbied the Pennsylvania legislature and had a law passed and signed that would "prohibit a government or any entity it creates from offering broadband for a fee." [Philadelphia Faces Wi-Fi Woes PC World 11/23/04]

This year, even the big guns of the right-wing are being leveled at the program.

Last month the Heartland Institute, which has ties to the American Enterprise Institute and the Heritage Foundation, issued a paper on Why Muni Wi-Fi Is a False Hope (02/01/05). This largely argues that because prior attempts at wired networks failed and that gosh, it’s going to cost $75-150 to set up so they can’t afford it anyhow (never mind how much more it would cost to set up and buy broadband access from Verizon or Comcast), it shouldn’t be done.

A few days ago, the libertarian Cato Institute entered the fray. They’re jaw-boning against the Philadelphia plan now, and will soon release a study attacking it. [Philadelphia aiming to get wired for less 02/17/05]

On c|net, Frank Rizzo argues illogically that because Boston’s "Big Dig" tunnel was a financial disaster, Philadelphia’s wi-fi for the poor will be too.

Why all the fuss and fury from the right?

Because while it will be good for America it will be bad for their business interests. If Philadelphia puts in low cost broadband access, telecom and cable companies won’t be able to maintain their essentially monopolistic high prices.

In the U.S., wireless broadband powered by a type of cellphone technology is planned or already being offered by companies including Verizon Wireless, owned by Verizon Communications Inc. and Vodafone Group PLC. Verizon Wireless’s business-oriented service runs over a beefed-up, "third generation" cellular network using a technology called EV-DO. Users obtain service by slipping a modem card into their laptops. The service is available in about 30 U.S. cities for $79.99 a month, though its speed of data transmission can be slower than that of the Australian systems.

Other U.S. wireless carriers including Sprint Corp. also offer such services in many cities, though their transmission speeds are even slower than Verizon Wireless’s. [Unbound Down Under Wall Street Journal 02/17/05 subscription]

Australia is doing it right.

For one thing, they, unlike America, have a competitive market in telecom. This has resulted in more and better services at a lower cost to consumers.

With their advanced technology, Personal Broadband Australia provides high speed wireless broadband (not wi-fi) that allows Internet access from cars and trains moving at up to 60 miles an hour.

Unwired has turned 770-square-mile Sydney into a broadband hot-spot with 70 base stations and it costs a user only $35 a month.

We really need to allow telecom competition or go back to regulation of phone and cable companies.

Write your Senators and House Representative and give them some what-for on wi-fi and broadband.

 

 

About Hal

  • http://www.JamesBabb.com Jim Babb

    Free wi-fi sounds great. Can I get a pony with that?

    Nothing is free. Somebody has to pay. Outsiders may not be aware that Philadelphia is facing a steady decline in population. Businesses and productive individuals have been streaming out the city because of things like a 5% wage tax and a 1% receipts tax on top of high property taxes and strangling regulations. They aren’t leaving the city because there is no wi-fi. They are leaving because corrupt government forces have ruined the local economy and schools. Anything they touch withers under mismanagement, incompetence and corruption. Taxes and spending are out of control and the city controlled monopolies are in shambles. This is not the time to give Philadelphia bureaucrats another utility monopoly. To do so is to invite another Philadelphia Gas Works style scandal and doom the prospects for widespread, quality wi-fi services.

    Philly already has a large number of privately owned hot-spots. Cheeper wi-fi gear is now making it possible for virtually any cafe, bar, hotel or bookstore to offer wi-fi to clients. Some offer open networks to attract customers, others charge for service.

    Implementing socialist wi-fi will surely squash every entrepreneurial wi-fi effort in town. Service quality will be determined by politicians instead of customers. I would much rather pay a few bucks to entrepreneurs competing for my business, than reward the politicians who can’t run a school or even remove snow

    Instead of creating more monopolies and limiting customer choices, Philadelphians have a better way get better internet services. Its time to remove the monopoly protections granted to Comcast & Verizon. Politicians awarded these two companies 100% control of local broadband resulting in stagnant service levels and rising consumer costs, despite leaps in technology.

    Lets open the doors to geeky entrepreneurs and say NO to government controlled internet. Say No to socialist wi-fi!

  • http://paperfrigate.blogspot.com DrPat

    Free wi-fi sounds great. Can I get a pony with that?

    How about a kangaroo?

    Excellent and precise run-down of the other side of this argument, Jim, thank you! It sounds like you have personal experience of Philly’s woes.

  • http://www.tude.com/ Hal Pawluk

    I agree, Jim, that “Its time to remove the monopoly protections granted to Comcast & Verizon.” You do that so the field is as competitive as it is in Sydney, where a private company delivers the low-cost service, and I’ll come out against the current Philly plan.

    That, however, is not going to happen and private companies will continue spending millions to keep their oligopolistic high prices.

    And I seem to have missed the part where you explain how “Philadelphians have a better way get better internet services.”

    The people in public housing will never be able to sit around Starbucks sipping lattes and surfing the Web. They can’t afford the coffee, and they certainly can’t afford the laptops.

    I doubt that quality of service would be any more of an issue with the municipality than with private services, and the poor won’t be getting any at all with Verizon – which is better? I think the idea that access to info on jobs, health, etc. would be useful in providing poorer people some upward economic mobility (Sen. Frist and others on the right agree).

  • vincent

    Why focus on the right-wing. You failed to mention that the bill has much Democratic support and Rendell (D) acually plans to sign it.

  • http://www.elitistpig.com Dave Nalle

    >>On c|net, Frank Rizzo argues illogically that because Boston’s “Big Dig” tunnel was a financial disaster, Philadelphia’s wi-fi for the poor will be too.<<

    Wow, I didn’t realize Frank “I’m going to make Attila the Hun look like a faggot” Rizzo was still alive. Any position he takes is likely to be the wrong one.

    Despite the fact that some conservative think tanks are skeptical, I don’t see how this is a right wing vs. the poor issue. If it’s being done with tax dollars then it needs to be justified as not being a waste of money, but a system like this could easily benefit everyone regardless of income level. It sounds like it’s more a case of Verizon not liking their corporate feet being stepped on. And maybe they do have an argument that government shouldn’t get into competition with them in the high speed internet marketplace. But on the otherhand, Verizon are a bunch of brainless turd burglers who are among the worst corporate citizens in America. I don’t shed any tears for them. If they were half-way smart they’d move in, take the project over and do it themselves then find a way to make money off of it.

    I will say that I’d much prefer to see this sort of WiFi expansion done on a private basis or by private charities than with public funds. Here in Austin private micro-ISPs have been very aggressive about getting free WiFi into all sorts of locations. They use it as a vehicle for advertising, the cost is fairly low, and people get free WiFi. It’s a win-win situation and I don’t see why the same model shouldn’t be applicable everywhere.

    Dave