Wi-Fi highway is uncertain route for several cities
It's about the city's plan to provide WiFi to its residents, which I think is a dubious idea given the town's record of disposing (or not, when they have garbage strikes) of taxpayer dollars.
Here's a couple points of the piece to ponder:
Will the initiative help reduce the digital divide?
Getting more low-income people online is one of the primary objectives behind what Philadelphia is doing. According to Neff, about 42 percent of the city's population now has no Internet access.
In the effort to get the number down to 20 percent in five years, EarthLink is expected to offer rates of $10 a month for low-income users ("low-income" has yet to be defined), as opposed to a standard rate of $20. That rate already is offered in about one-third of the city by Closed Networks Inc., a local company.
Those prices are lower than cable, comparable to dial-up and some DSL rates. (In San Francisco, Google has proposed providing free citywide wireless for everyone.)
But the current cost of Internet service - and its unavailability in some pockets of the city - may not be the biggest obstacles to expanding access; 36 percent of Philadelphians don't have computers.
Wireless Philadelphia plans to use revenues from EarthLink and other sources to help bring computers and computer-training to the poor.
"If the prime focus here was really broadband access for impoverished residents, there are other, simpler ways to go about it," said Ellen Daley, an analyst for Forrester Research, an independent, Massachusetts-based company that studies the business of technology. "You might target subsidies to the poor through the existing providers."
Is the plan realistic, economically and technically?
Berryman says that he's confident that EarthLink will be able to make money. But Michael J. Balhoff, a Maryland-based consultant whose research has been financed by established Internet service providers, says the numbers don't add up.
He and other experts say that EarthLink also is underestimating the difficulties of covering a vast, urban area and the cost of operating and maintaining the system. The vast majority of signal boxes will be on utility poles, exposed to weather and vandals.
If it all goes wrong, they may need Rocky to devise a lower tech mass broadband scheme the way he did his own phone system:
Yo, Paulie -- Ya sister's with me! I'll call ya later.