Yesterday, I attended the press conference at which Philadelphia mayor John Street (that’s him in the photo) announced the formal launch of Wireless Philadelphia. This is the city-wide wireless broadband network that has been the source of both so much excitement and so much angst on the part of incumbents.
As Street, and Philly CIO Dianah Neff (the force behind the project) made clear, however, the city isn’t just blindly trying to replace private connectivity providers. Philadelphia has established a separate non-profit corporation, which will contract with private companies to build the network. It will then offer the network as an open wholesale platform, with third-party service providers offering the retail connections to end users. That means carriers, ISPs, and hotspot aggregators will all benefit from the city’s investment, not compete with it.
No city money will be spent on the project. All costs will be covered from revenues. That’s right; the network won’t be free. It will cost an estimated $16-$20/month for unlimited access, which is a bargain considering that you can pay $10 just to surf in one Starbucks for a couple hours. The city will be a customer of the wireless network for its internal communications activities, which is expected to save it $2 million per year in telecommunications costs once. And as Street and Neff pointed out, there are all sorts of potential ancillary benefits and services to be delivered on top of the connectivity platform.
It’s exciting to live in the place that it pioneering something that I’m confident all major cities will want to do within the next 5-10 years.
By the way, we’re organizing a workshop track at Supernova on municipal broadband. The activity around municipal wireless in particular is just too great to ignore. And this decentralization of connectivity and broadband policy is a perfect example of the Supernova themes.