The Philadelphia Story: Controversial


The firm Philadelphia has retained to build a citywide wireless Internet network has spent millions more than its anticipated costs and cannot say when it will complete the project, City Council members were told yesterday. EarthLink representatives were a no show for a committee hearing on Wireless Philadelphia, yesterday, reports Philly.com. Greg Goldman, CEO of the city-created nonprofit Wireless Philadelphia, said EarthLink’s network had “several thousand” subscribers so far (pdf).

MuniWireless has details on a New American Foundation report that is critical of Wireless Philadelphia. The Foundation asserts that Philadelphia’s pioneering, city-wide wireless network would be better organized as a nonprofit organization that owns and operates the network.

The Philadelphia Story (pdf), puts Wireless Philadelphia under a microscope and is one of the most readable and illuminating reviews of municipal wireless developments to date. It promotes a liberal point of view, in the Bob McChesney style, and may not be as academically rigorous as, for example, a MITRE report. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

The report recommends:

City officials and decision-makers:

  • Involve all stakeholders.
  • Sustain open participation.
  • Promote horizontal relationships among stakeholders.
  • Be open with information.
  • Go offline.
  • Leverage existing assets.
  • Seriously consider the benefits of public/nonprofit ownership and open access business models.
  • Treat connectivity and digital inclusion as basic public rights.

Community members and local organizers:

  • Organize a coalition.
  • Get to know the key players and decision-makers.
  • Be the media and report on the process.
  • Do your own research and disseminate it within your community.
  • Start a community wireless project.
  • Remain actively involved in all steps of the process.

For the full report, see the the pdf.

Wireless Philadelphia responds with their own press release (pdf):


“This is a great day for Wireless Philadelphia,” said CEO Greg Goldman. “On the same day,
in the same place, this ambitious public-private Initiative to extend internet access to all
neighborhoods will be attacked for being too much government by some and for not being public
enough by others. We must be doing something right!”

In just over one year of operations, and with network construction still underway, Wireless
Philadelphia has raised over $1M in new funds from 30 different sources and forged partnerships
with over 30 community-based organizations that already serve the Digital Inclusion population,
with many more to come.

The publication’s principal author, Josh Brietbart, argues from the perspective that public
ownership is the only effective “business model” for municipal broadband projects, and the
publication is crafted to support this view. Thus the publication’s conclusions cannot be labeled
“outcomes” but must be considered as assertions based on a specific point of view.

The publication argues that WP yielded to political pressure when it accepted EarthLink’s bid
to own and operate the network. This falsely assumes that City funds were available to build and
operate a citywide wireless network. The project would likely never have been approved under a
public ownership model.

In stark contrast to the assertions of the Ethos Group publication, substantial public input
has been included in the process of developing the Wireless Philadelphia initiative at every step…

The Ethos Group says it follows three core principles: accessibility, accountability, and affordability. But Ethos’ Philadelphia report does not mention the nearly universal retrenchment of city-wide WiFi services, the downside of municipal ownership, shared connections using Meraki repeaters, practical cost and operational comparisons between WiFi and WiMAX clouds, the impact of 700 MHz, unlicensed white spaces, or MetroFi’s “free” ad-supported municipal wireless approach.

DailyWireless follows developments in wireless advertising closely. Nobody likes to be assaulted by adverting, but that economic model deserves more scrutiny — especially if hand-held devices like the iPhone become ubiquitous.

We’d like to know what role adverting can — or should — play in municipal wireless. That study has yet to be written.

Posted by Sam Churchill on .

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