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FROM THE MEDIA MOBILIZING PROJECT
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
Todd Wolfson (MMP): 215.990.3702
Gwen Shaffer: 267.475.1441
The Future of Philadelphia's Wireless Internet Initiative:
A Public Forum
When: Wednesday, June 18, 6:30 p.m.
Where: Tuttleman Learning Center, Room 105,
Corner of 13th St. and Montgomery Ave. Temple University
Mark Rupp, Principle, Boathouse Communications
Beth McConnell, Executive Director, Media and Democracy Coalition
Karl Garcia, Technical Staff, Google's Wireless network, Mountainview, Calif.
Greg Goldman, CEO of Wireless Philadelphia
Phuong Ninh, Philadelphia Student Union's Youth Leadership Team
Bill Green City Councilman-At Large
Invited, representative from the Nutter administration
From a press release from the Media Mobilizing Project:
Local residents urged to call Mayor Nutter May 21 and demand his administration block Earthlink from dismantling the city's WiFi network
When: Wednesday, May 21st 9AM-5PM
Phone Number: (215) 686-3000 or (215) 686-2250
Media Mobilizing Project and local broadband activists are urging Philadelphians to call Mayor Michael Nutter on Wednesday May 21, to demand that the city step in to save the Wireless Philadelphia network and keep digital inclusion as part of it's agenda. Earthlink plans to begin dismantling the $17 million network June 12, after failing to convince either the city or a non-profit to assume ownership.
*I posted this comment as a response to the thread on the Phila Story: Learning from a Wireless Pioneer, but wanted to post it on its own for those not following that long thread*
The future of the Wi-Fi network and Wireless Philadelphia is a topic of discussion that will take weeks or months of ongoing dialogue. I hope that yesterday's events were the start of a discourse that will feature front and center the needs of our city's poorest residents to get access to affordable, quality Internet services. The Media Mobilizing Project is now working to make sure those voices are heard and those communities are at the table, so I'll leave it up to them to share their next steps.
But I'd like to offer some thoughts.
First, the reports of the death of municipal broadband networks are greatly exaggerated. And repeating that false spin only gives ammo to the cable and phone companies that don't want the competition, yet aren't meeting our nation's communication needs. The U.S. is neck and neck with Estonia, ladies and gentlemen, when it comes to broadband access. Congress has not acted (although took an important step with the movement of some bills from a Senate committee earlier this month). Many many many cities and towns are still planning to deploy networks, but they are re-evaluating whether to follow our model or create a new one. And many already have deployed networks, some of which are much more ambitious than our system here.
What is now clear is the future of this system does not include Earthlink. While under a ten year contract, the company will most likely sell the system. There may be other private buyers, and they will be bound by the terms of Earthlink's contract. Whether City Council or Wireless Philadelphia have the authority to change those terms is not clear to me, but I'd bet my lunch money any new private buyer will push for it.
But instead of handing the keys over to a new prospective owner, I hope we seriously consider other ownership models. The New America Foundation report outlined several, and you can read it at http://www.newamerica.net/publications/policy/philadelphia_story
I don't think Philadelphia has "lost" a great deal yet, but we stand to. If we abandon this network -- which was and still is a good idea -- we will reinforce every stereotype of this city and its leaders as being foolish and incompetent. I for one am tired of such rhetoric. Perpetuating it only gives excuses to those who'd rather not do the hard work that makes stuff work and cities run. We're smarter than that, so let's act like it.
It's not time to stop and throw our hands in the air. It is time to stop expecting that private companies will meet all of our basic needs, especially those of our poorest residents who are not very profitable "markets."
It might also just be about time for the city to take a holistic approach to our communications needs and assets and how they work together. I don't want to over-burden our public access friends who are busy with the business of building the new station, but public access is part of the goals of a city connected just as Wi-Fi is. We have an amazing group of people in this town at Prometheus Radio Project that build community radio stations. Yes, right here in Philly these rock stars have the expertise that people as far as Kenya clamor for.
I've already mentioned MMP, and you can read more about their work helping immigrants tell their stories in Saturday's Inquirer at http://www.philly.com/philly/news/local/12275071.html
Say what you will about the Inquirer, but it's one of the few locally owned independent newspapers in this country. I could go on.
I'd argue that as a city, we have undervalued or ignored many of these assets because they don't make money or create that many jobs. Or we just don't know what to do with them. They do, however, help sustain our democracy; make our city cool and hip; give platforms to those ignored by mainstream media; teach vital skills; and allow independent artists to distribute their work.
Let's put our heads together and figure out how we, as a community, can support and sustain this growing independent media infrastructure. That's the kind of media empire I'd like to see thrive here. Comcast can and will take care of itself.
When city leaders announced plans for a city-wide Wi-Fi network, the only thing you could hear louder than the jeers were the cheers. Many embraced the vision for a wireless network and plan for digital inclusion that brought all residents on-line, others predicted it was a disaster surely to happen.
So now that the network is deployed in most neighborhoods, consumers are beginning to sign on, and digital inclusion programs are being rolled out, what do we have? Is it a modern communications system that's the envy of other big cities? And how will Earthlink's retreat from the municipal wireless business affect the long-term viability of our system?