Philadelphia City-Wide WiFi

Tom Keating : VoIP & Gadgets Blog
Tom Keating
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Philadelphia City-Wide WiFi

One of my 2005 VoIP Predictions seems to be a step closer to becoming reality. I wrote:

8) Cities become their own phone companies
You will start to see more cities not only offering high-speed wireless broadband using WiMAX and other high-speed wireless technologies, but you will start to see cities offering their own phone services as well. Just think of the loyalty they can build! If I have my choice between paying a private VoIP company based in New Jersey versus paying my local town, heck I'll give the money to my local town. My local town can simply send out an ad in one of those "coupon mailers" that most of us in the country receive and say, "Use us as your phone company and your property taxes will go down." SOLD! End of story. I'd drop my current VoIP provider in a heartbeat! I'd tell my neighbors to join so we could reduce our property taxes and they in turn would tell other neighbors in the town. The old "peer-to-peer" system if you will! : )

I predict if cities wise-up and become their own phone companies, this could be the most revolutionary changes in the telecom industry ever. Instead of a few dozen phone companies you could have thousands of phone companies - with each town being its own phone company.

First a backgrounder. Back in November, I wrote about how Verizon lobbied to kill Philadelphia's plan to launch city-wide WiFi. Well, according to Reuters, Philadelphia is proceeding with their WiFi plans and will become the largest US Internet hotspot next year under a plan to offer wireless access at about half the cost charged by commercial operators.

Last year, officials unveiled a pilot scheme offering users of WiFi-enabled computers access to the Internet within a radius of about a mile of downtown's Love Park. This past Thursday's announcement expands the network to the city's entire 135-square-mile area, marking a US first.

The network, based on devices attached to city streetlight poles, is expected to cost the city $15 million to set up.

The service will cost subscribers $16 to $20 a month and will be available through a device costing about $80, city chief information officer Dianah Neff said.

The city hopes the plan will get 80 percent of Philadelphia's households connected to the Internet within five years, up from the current level of 58 percent.

City officials estimate it will create 3,000 jobs, mostly by creating the type of city attractive to tech-savvy people who want to be connected to the Internet at all times.

According to Reuters, the plan is opposed by some city lawmakers who say the network will cost more to build than estimated and that the work should be given to telecom companies such as Verizon Communications or Comcast. In other words, city lawmakers are receiving bribes from Verizon and/or Comcast to keep their monopoly. Did I just say that? Ignore the last few sentences.

Gene Kimmelman, senior director for public policy at Consumers Union, a consumer watchdog group, said the plan will provide Internet access to low- and moderate-income communities for about half the rate charged by phone and cable companies, and will break what he called their monopolistic practices.

I couldn't agree with Gene more. Once Philadelphia goes live with their WiFi offering they will be 1 step closer to offering VoIP phone service as well. Then my prediction that cities will become their own phone companies will come true. And then perhaps, just perhaps, one day my town will offer WiFi + VoIP and as as result of the increased revenue they can reduce my property taxes. I can dream can't I?

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