November 24, 2004  ·  Lessig

In September, I reported that Philadelphia was considering funding a WiFi service for the city. Sixty percent of the citizens have no access to broadband. The city elders believe that’s no way to enter the 21st century.

But as Public Knowledge now reports, a bill on the Governor’s desk would now make it impossible for Philadelphia to offer such a service, because it “competes” with private businesses offering the same service.

So, let’s see: If I open a private street light company, selling the photons my lights give off, can Philadelphia offer “free” street lights? Or does the fact that Guards To Go offers services in Philadelphia mean we need to disband the Philly police department?

I am from Pennsylvania. I spent 4 wonderful years in Philadelphia. (Indeed, I was elected Youth Governor in 1979!) If you’re connected to that freedom-loving state, please say something to the Governor.

  • Matthew Saroff

    I’m think that this is an artifact of Gerrymandering.

    70-90% of the reps have safe districts, so they whore themselves for money, because they going to be re-elected absent the proverbial dead girl or live boy in their bed.

  • James Stewart

    Does anyone know what the status of ‘telecommunications’ in the US under GATS is? It would seem to me that GATS would call for a similar position to that the PA Senate would be adopting. Is that something we should be concerned about?

  • Kristin Thomson

    There is more about HB 30 and the issue of municipal wireless services on this website, if folks are interested., and an excerpt from a Wall Street Journal article here: Especially silly is that most of the obstruction on HB 30 has come from companies like Verizon, which says it’s “not fair” that they have to compete against a city for competition. But according to Harold Feld from Media Access Project….:

    “What the Verizon spokesman does not mention is that Pennsylvania is setting aside more than $100 million in subsidies for broadband deployment (with $40 million dedicated to wire schools). And, just to keep Verizon in line, the Statute mandates complete coverage of the state with broadband by 2013 and requires TELC to file actual documents with the state making sure they stick to their deployment plans. Pennsylvania is watching out for YOU!

    “GOTCHA! This is what makes House Bill 30 real genius. It looks like a public subsidy to build infrastructure, but, thanks to the statute, THE ONLY PLACE YOU CAN BUY IT FROM IS VERIZON! (Well, I suppose some might dribble out to other companies like Comcast, but that is a risk of doing business). So, in exchange for eliminating cost saving competition, Verizon will receive a $140 million subsidy.”

    Feld’s comments are posted here:

    The City of Phila is also urging the Governor to veto. As am I.

  • adamsj

    Where would we look to find the status of other states on municipal telecom questions like this? Any clues?

  • / Lonewacko

    I think everyone should check out the comments on the earlier post, especially those from Lonewacko. (There’s also comments spam there at the end).

    Wouldn’t this allow, for instance, Philadelphia to compile a list of all those people who accessed an inflammatory article about a local politician, then, after looking through what else those same MAC addresses had looked at, determining the identities of those people?

    Perhaps letting this thing go would be the best option. Let private companies provide the service. WiFi isn’t an essential utility like electricity.

  • Cindy Loo Who

    Larry! You’ve become a libertarian! I can’t wait to tell Declan!
    One of us,
    One of us,
    Gooble Goble
    One of us,
    We accept Larry,
    One of us!

  • raoul

    We will have to build our own private/ open to the public wi-fi networks. Everyone in my apartment complex is welcome to access the internet.

  • Max Lybbert

    I can see the principle of keeping the state out from stifling a vibrant business community, but I think an automatic policy that prohibits any potentially competing activity is ridiculous. In this particular case, the wi-fi network would help local businesses, and was suggested because many companies didn’t think the numbers added up for Philly.

  • / Lonewacko

    And, another thing. This will create yet another State bureaucracy. They’ll have to conduct a $eries of $tudies using con$lutants, if you know what I mean. It will be a power center to which people who support the local establishment can be appointed. No doubt more than a few WiFi transceivers will fall off the back of several trucks. Etc. etc. etc.

  • robert e

    Please, folks, this is 802.11b we’re talking about! This is not some huge public works project with a lot of potential for lucrative pork. The original estimate was $10-15 million, and we already have a low bid of $5 million. The transceivers “falling off trucks” are even now worth about $20 retail. By this time next year, 802.11b will be considered antiquated and limited, suited only for free public nets and monastic households with limited bandwidth needs. If this were a business worth competing for, there would have been fierce commercial activity. There hasn’t been.

    This is what government is for–to step in where private business can’t, for the sake of promoting the general welfare and turbocharging the pursuit of happiness. For the modest investment and maintenance costs, the potential boone to local businesses, city services, education, and even Verizon’s own field operations, is incalculable, not to mention the demand for WiFi-enabled gadgets.

    Verizon still charges $20/mo for unlimited dialup. Let’s assume that price is a reflection of their cost plus an honest profit. If the people can provide basic net access for themselves far more efficiently, as seems to be the case, and in so doing provide what is now essential infrastructure for commerce, why shouldn’t they? What is wrong with motivating private enterprises to put their resources to more productive and profitable uses and more viable markets?

    As the comments above have elucidated in so many ways, honest competition would still be possible on many differentiating factors, such as security, bandwidth and quality of service. The City proposes to fill only the least (if at all) profitable niche.

  • Karl

    I’m sure alot of people have said electricity wasn’t important either when Edison invented the lightbulb. I’m also sure alot of people said asphault roads weren’t important when the car was invented. Internet connectivity will be esential because society is creating a need for it. They say neccessity is the mother of invention, but in this case invention is the mother of neccessity.

  • Jardinero1

    Were they going to pass out free computers as well?

  • joe

    Here’s what Rendell said upon signing the thing, see

    Please, people, read before ranting.


    There are communities across the state, such as Kutztown, which have taken the initiative to develop an integrated telecommunications network that provides advanced telephone and cable television service. There are other communities, ranging in size from Perryopolis to Philadelphia that are attempting to launch wireless networks�Wi-Fi networks as they are known in the industry�which will enable their residents to have high speed connection to the Internet.

    Early versions of House Bill 30 precluded communities from developing their own networks. The final version of the bill allows existing municipal systems to continue to operate and provides local governments and authorities a one-year window to develop these networks. Municipalities that are providing telecommunications service through a municipally owned or created network as of January 1, 2006 can continue to offer and provide the services �to the extent and scope� that these services were provided before that date. After that window closes, municipalities must offer the incumbent telephone company the right of first refusal to provide the proposed service. Then, the municipality can proceed with its proposed network only if the ILEC waives it�s right of first refusal under this act.

    Verizon has already agreed to waive its right of first refusal in regard to Philadelphia�s proposed municipal Wi-Fi network guaranteeing that that particular project can proceed. They have done so in a signed agreement with the City. We will work with other municipalities on projects that they have established or propose to establish in order to ensure that, to the extent that they are now viable, they will also have the opportunity to succeed.

  • dave

    Dear PHilly,

    Don’t raise my taxes to pay for a service which people should pay for themselves, if they choose.

    Thank YOu,
    Joe Taxpayer

  • Dave

    It’s THAT which really is freedom, not what some tax-to-death liberal decides should be mandatory.