Philadelphia Considers Wireless Internet for All
For about $10 million, city officials believe they can turn all 135 square miles of Philadelphia into the world’s largest wireless Internet hot spot. The ambitious plan, now in the works, would involve placing hundreds, or maybe thousands of small transmitters around the city Ã¢€” probably atop lampposts. Each would be capable of communicating with the wireless networking cards that now come standard with many computers. Once complete, the network would deliver broadband Internet almost anywhere radio waves can travel Ã¢€” including poor neighborhoods where high-speed Internet access is now rare.
And the city would likely offer the service either for free, or at costs far lower than the $35 to $60 a month charged by commercial providers, said the city’s chief information officer, Dianah Neff. “If you’re out on your front porch with a laptop, you could dial in, register at no charge, and be able to access a high speed connection,” Neff said. “It’s a technology whose time is here.”
If the plan becomes a reality, Philadelphia could leap to the forefront of a growing number of cities that have contemplated offering wireless Internet service to residents, workers and guests. Chaska, Minn., a suburb of Minneapolis, began offering citywide wireless Internet access this year for $16 a month. The signal covers about 13 square miles. Corpus Christi, Texas, has been experimenting with a system covering 20 square miles that would be used (for now) only by government employees. Over the past year, Cleveland has added some 4,000 wireless transmitters in its University Circle, Midtown and lakefront districts. The service is free, and available to anyone who passes through the areas. Some 1,016 people were logged in to the system at 2:20 Tuesday afternoon, said Lev Gonick, chief information officer at Case Western Reserve University, which is spearheading the project and paying for a chunk of it. “We like to say it should be like the air you breathe Ã¢€” free and available everywhere,” Gonick said. “We look at this like PBS or NPR. It should be a public resource.”
Interesting. While my general instinct on these matters is to have government intervene only when the private sector can’t provide a service, this doesn’t strike me as an inherently bad idea. Broadband access, especially a wireless variety, could certainly be considered a key part of the public infrastructure today. My main concern is practical rather than theoretical: Would this stifle innovation? Under the competitive market, communications technology has improved by leaps and bounds as companies strive to lure customers with better or cheaper service. Would that still be the case under a government model?