The future of public wireless

Recently the city of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania has been working on rolling out what could be the largest public wireless network in the USA. That momentum was interrupted when Pennsylvania house bill 30, a.k.a. the "Verizon Bill," was introduced to the Pennsylvania legislature in Harrisburg.

Simply, Verizon doesn't want competition from the Wireless Philadelphia Initiative on providing wireless internet access. The key part of Verizon's argument is that the City of Philadelphia would be charging the citizens to construct the wireless network, pay for its long term maintenance, and supposedly for access to the wireless network itself. Verizon claims it would not charge citizens for the CREATION of a wireless network. But it is clear they would have to charge for ACCESS to the network once this future private network was constructed.

Now it is being reported that "the online equivalent of an angry mob" has caused Verizon to back down from opposing Philadelphia's plan to provide wireless. This change appears to be due to activists and technology lovers urging Governor Rendell and Pennsylvania state legislators to stop the bill. The whole future of the Philadelphia wireless network and other Pennsylvania cities future wireless networks could hinge on KEEPING THE NETWORK FREE! (free as in no charge to users) This whole argument against the Philadelphia wireless network appears to have started over the money the city of Philadelphia was going to make charging for ACCESS to the network. If the city makes no money then they aren't competing (their logic, not mine).

But the jig ain't up yet. The deadline for Governor Rendell signing Bill 30 is midnight tonight - November 30. Negotiations between the City of Philadelphia and Verizon have supposedly created a more relaxed Bill 30 that will allow the wireless network project to go forward. Verizon may have caved on some points, but not all. The new bill could prevent other cities and towns in Pennsylvania from creating their own public wireless networks without obtaining Verizon's permission.

So if the Town of Carrboro keeps its wireless network free (again, as in no charge) they may avoid legal challenges by corporations wanting a piece of the action. [Hey lawyers, have any light to shed on this?]

I think there are several points we can learn, as a community, from these events:

1) We are VERY lucky that the Town of Carrboro wireless network exists already!

2) When the public wireless network gets bigger, it's possible that corporations may see potential profit being lost and could feel threatened.

3) NC state anti-competition laws COULD force the Town of Carrboro to remove the wireless network. [Lawyers, Elected Officials please speak to this.]

4) As local citizens we can demand more public services and the protection of the ones we have AND WIN!

I know you all have various expertise and experiences, so SPEAK UP! Techies who know the details of the town's dealings with Corporate network providers, SPEAK UP! Users of the Town of Carrboro wireless network who love it, SPEAK UP!

Let's try not to argue the merits of this "potential" threat. Let's use the power of this forum to think STRATEGICALLY and be ready in case we need to save our own public wireless network.

Brian Russell is a community technology advocate who lives in Northside. His Internet radio blog is



Good topic Brian. I haven't seen a strategic plan for Carrboro's Wi-Fi network so I'm not sure whether they are experimenting or whether they expect WiFI will becomes a basic service (utility). Should the network only be available downtown--what boundaries? The town only has 2 IT staff so I don't imagine they can get too much bigger without adding staff.

The Chapel Hill IT advisory board recently began discussing a policy of requiring developers to include some form of network access into all new construction, similar to other utilities. Will Carrboro pass on some of the cost of extending their network to developers/business owners?

Looks like Rendell signed the bill at 11:00 pm last night. I don't have a good handle yet on the effects, but I can't imagine that it won't cause some rethinking of implementation plans in other areas.

I just want to say that free wireless is not free. It is paid for by taxes. Your taxes are the charge. If businesses were smart they would have done this a while ago. So much for business being on the cutting edge.

Power to the people!

If you want more info on carborro's wireless plan see

Story Update
It appears one result of PA Bill 30 going into law is the right of first refusal given to Verizon and possibly any other CELEC (an acronym for a type of telecommunications company).

Other municipalities may go into high gear as they have until Jan. 1, 2006, to avoid the first-refusal requirement.

Public Access, Private Profit
By Amy Goodman, Democracy Now!
This is a transcript of a interesting discussion about community and corporate broadband.


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