Public WiFi policy lessons being learned now in PA - pay attention OH

Submitted by Norm Roulet on Sun, 11/28/2004 - 16:17.

Many private businesses in NEO are making life better for area residents and visitors by making their Internet access free to others via WiFi. I'm writing this posting from Talkies, in Ohio City, in a room full of others so unwired, and none of us would be here if the owners weren't so progressive. Unfortunately, most NEO leaders are not as forward thinking as our small business champs, or progressives leaders like in Philadelphia, developing large-deployment mesh public WiFi strategies for all their residents.

WiFi offers immediate economic development impact at many levels, bringing the IT savvy creative class out into the streets and to area businesses, on even the most dismal NEO evening, and making them appreciate the region as progressive and desirable. A smart regional WiFi strategy may have much greater impact bridging the digital divide for residents who cannot afford or gain access without concerted public initiative. REALNEO is supporting effort to create a WiFi mesh for all of East Cleveland, where residents are struggling with so much in life. But, in planning this, we must all realize making computing and Internet access a civil right, so to speak, smacks of socialism in the face of monopoly access providers like Adelphia and SBC, which want to charge as much as possible to those who can pay, and deny access to those who cannot. Accept this truth as we attempt to unbundle economic development from the current monopoly stranglehold on Internet access, as we shall soon face challenges like being faced by Philadelphia, and Ohio in not as progressive as Pennsylvania and so even more likely to fail at the hands of entrenched business interests. Read what's up in PA:

Philadelphia Faces Wi-Fi Woes - Proposed law could prevent
the government from offering broadband access.

Stephen Lawson, IDG News Service - Tuesday, November 23,

A proposed Pennsylvania law now on its way to the governor's
desk could pose a hurdle for the city of Philadelphia's ambitious plan to provide
broadband service throughout the city via Wi-Fi.

One provision of House Bill 30 (HB30), a wide-ranging
telecommunications regulation bill that earned final approval by the state
House and Senate last week, would prohibit a government or any entity it
creates from offering broadband for a fee.

Philadelphia's city government is studying plans to deploy Wi-Fi
wireless LAN access points
throughout the city, each offering IEEE 802.11b
access and linked to others via a wireless mesh network, says Dinanah Neff, the
city's chief information officer. Deployment is set to begin in June 2005 and
should be completed by June 2006.

The $7 million to $10 million project is intended to
encourage economic growth and help poor residents access the Internet with a
broadband service priced at an estimated $15 to $25 per month, she says. About
60 percent of Philadelphia's neighborhoods, primarily poorer neighborhoods and less
densely populated ones, don't have access to broadband
, according to Neff.

HB30 would eliminate three of the five possible business
models being studied by Neff and the Wireless Philadelphia Executive Committee,
according to Neff.

"It will make it more difficult. It will not kill the
project," Neff says.

The city could provide the service for free, but it is
unlikely to find a funding source for that, she says. Alternatively, it could
offer the service through a consortium of private companies that would sell it
to the public--probably at a higher price, Neff believes.

Preventing Competition?

The language on government-supplied broadband in the bill
would hand a big favor to Verizon Communications, the incumbent regional
telecommunications carrier in Philadelphia, according to Gary Tuma, press
secretary to state Senator Vincent Fumo, a Democrat who opposed the bill.
Verizon has fallen short on its promises to build a more up-to-date network
over the past 10 years, contributing to the lack of broadband availability, he

"It's one of many efforts being made by Verizon to
prevent competition," Tuma says. "What was going on here was an
intense lobbying effort by Verizon to get a version of the bill they were happy

Verizon disputes that charge. The carrier has invested $8.5
billion in infrastructure in Pennsylvania over the past 10 years, and
competition is thriving in the state, says company spokesperson Sharon Shaffer.

Local governments that get into the broadband business risk
pouring taxpayer dollars into projects that don't pay off, Shaffer says. In
addition, they enjoy competitive advantages that include having access to
public funds and not having to pay taxes, she adds.

Verizon, as well as a state senator who supported the bill,
dismiss the perceived threat to Philadelphia's planned network. A
"grandfather" clause in the bill would exempt from the ban any
service that is already operational on January 1, 2006. To qualify, the service
would only have to have one paying subscriber by that time, according to Don
Houser, chief of staff for state Senator Jake Corman, a Republican.

However, Philadelphia CIO Neff believes the language isn't
clear enough for comfort. The project might have to be accelerated so the
network was fully in place by the cut-off date, she says.

Governor Edward Rendell, a Democrat, had ten days to act on
the bill, says Tuma, who would not speculate whether it will be signed or

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