The New York Times piece adds a couple of noteworthy tidbits to the debate over whether cities like Philadelphia should use tax money to build Wi-Fi networks: Now city officials are saying that the target user of the network would be households or businesses that qualify for economic assistance. They also say that the city would privately raise the $10 million required to build the network, rather than use tax funds, and that the city wouldn't run the network itself but use a management company.
City leaders say that the communities that could benefit from such access likely won't be served by private hotspot operators so the city is hoping to ensure that those communities aren't excluded. That idea is similar to municipalities around the country who build broadband wired services in regions that the telcos flat out say they won't serve.
A Seattle city spokesperson counters that he doesn't see why the city would build such a network especially if it hurts other businesses selling something similar. He also points to WiMax as a future option that would offer a much easier method for covering a city in wireless access.
It's a good thing that this Philadelphia announcement has produced so much debate. For a while, it seemed like cities were blindly jumping on the Wi-Fi bandwagon with only a vague plan of using it bring in business and boost the local economy. This debate is a good opportunity for cities to think a bit harder about the benefits of Wi-Fi and how to do more than just build a network for access. They'll need to leverage the networks in a way that can be beneficial to the local community.