Philly Wifi: 40 Bucks Makes All The Difference?

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Oh, well then. That's so much better than I first thought:

Though Philadelphia is seeking help from private companies to build the system, a nonprofit organization would own it and sell wholesale access to Internet service providers, which would market it back to city residents and businesses at capped rates expected to run between $16 and $20 per month.

It's not that the city government of Philly is going to provide free wireless to downtown. Instead, the city has created a non-profit organization that will control access in order to sell it to ISP providers who then get the privelege of selling access to customers at rates defined by...yes...the city. Because, after all, the more layers of opaque, non-responsive bureaucracy one can put between customers and the people who "set" prices, the better.

What does all this accretion of regulatory reach and manpower provide for the city (at about three million at year for the next five years)? Wireless access at...wait for it...$20 a month instead of $30-60. Even taking the high side of the range, is it really possible that the one thing blocking the traditionally underserved from getting internet access is truly $40? Or could it be the lack of computers in the first place? Perhaps I'm wrong about this, but my view of the average individual in the communities on the lacking side of the technology gap is that these aren't people/families sitting right at the margin, waiting for broadband access to drop a couple of dollars to finally get online. Local businesses do fine with limited internet access all over the country -- a phone line is all that's needed to take credit card transactions.

Councilman Frank Rizzo sums things up nicely:

"If this government did a great job filling potholes and plowing the street ... then I'd say 'Go for it,'" said City Councilman Frank Rizzo. "But I know what goes on under the rocks, and I'm just not confident."

Rizzo predicted that the final cost of the system will far exceed the city's initial estimates. He also said the city shouldn't be venturing into the Internet marketplace at a time when it is cutting services at public libraries.

The only quibble I have is that, apparently, the city government isn't -- from what I can tell -- actually responsible for doing anything in this set up. They picked a price, blocked off an area, and said "build it for $15 million, or go away". Down the line, it's not government employees that will fix the boxes on streetlights, it's the workers from the company that built the infrastructure responding to complaints filed to the non-profit board who has to get in line with all the other complaints being filed at the company. And when the price is capped for each area, do you really think the company will respond with the same speed as they might for customers with a choice? So all the city government has to do is see that the $16-20 rule is enforced and sit back and congratulate each other on a job well done.

So, for the privelege of paying a few dollars less a month, Philly gets slower service, unclear lines of responsibility, and service that will likely be spotty and quickly outdated at best. Or you can just write off those tax dollars and buy better service for yourself. For those who don't service will be $20, for those who do, it's $60+your share of tax expenditures. Good enough for government work!

The upside? Might provide an interesting experiment on community attitudes and pressures towards/against mistreatment of common pool resources when you look at which streetlight-top-wifi boxes break most frequently, or go missing altogether.

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Turns out that the “free” (really “taxpayer-subsidized”) municipal wi-fi access in Philadelphia that everyone thinks will be so “neat-o!” Read More

2 Comments

Isn't Frank Rizzo one of the Jerky Boys?

People from Philly are just dumb. The more we find out about how this system is supposed to work, the stupider it seems to me. What's the point?

It would be cheaper to give people vouchers for Verizon's EV-DO service. Even better, how about rebating everyone all the stupid ass taxes you pay for DSL and cellphone services like EV-DO?

Cool web-site! Very informativity,thanks!

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