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March 3, 2005

Philadelphia's Plan Slips Release Date

Well, we were all wondering where February went to: Philadelphia has delayed releasing its detailed plan for a wireless broadband infrastructure from early February to an unknown time. There's a missing piece in this coverage that I wanted to mention: Dianah Neff keeps saying "broadband" while Comcast and Verizon say "broadband" and they don't mean the same thing.

Neff's project will be able to deliver reliably hundreds of Kbps. Whatever they build starting today won't put megabits per second into people's homes. Comcast and Verizon can, today, put 3 to 6 Mbps of downstream bandwidth at only slightly more than the city's proposed price albeit in the locations they have facilities to offer it.

By late 2006, when Philly's plan is fully unveiled, even if they use the most modern widely used most inexpensive equipment, the incumbents will be offering 10 to 20 times the bandwidth at likely 20 to 50 percent higher cost. Ubiquitous Wi-Fi is a great way to reach a large audience but it cannot reach every resident with its full potential nor can even the most ideally placed residents achieve consistent speeds at a level that incumbent wired providers can easily push through.

I don't understand why this hasn't been factored into the reporting or the critique on either side of this divide. The point of Neff's network is to offer broadband speeds everywhere. Ten times faster than a modem is broadband and it enables true Internet connectivity for audio, limited video, and virtually all other purposes. One hundred to 200 times dial-up speeds takes you into an entirely different realm in which video-on-demand, downloadable movies, and multi-line VoIP are all trivial.

This will create a new digital divide, but one that's less critical than today's. Verizon and Comcast should be trumpeting their speed and what they envision possible in 18 months. It would be more effective (and more frank) commentary. Comcast once again in this article explains how, without building wireless networks themselves, they are more qualified to explain to the city and its taxpayers how difficult it is rather than, say, a town that has built a large municipal network with wireless.

This is the first article in which Verizon confirms they will bid on parts of the Philadelphia plan, which sort of defeats the whole argument that this is a municipal-run network that can't be built. The article also notes that thousands of access points will be required, which seems realistic.

Councilman Frank Rizzo chortles with glee about the delay in this Wall Street Journal article; he also wrote a letter (linked from the article) to the Journal criticizing Lee Gomes's recent column on Philadelphia's plan. Rizzo is parroting lines provided by the sock puppets I've exposed elsewhere, so he's acting indirectly on behalf of Verizon and Comcast through their intermediaries. This is interesting because Rizzo receives thousands of dollars in contribution from IBEW (International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers) Local 98 which is full of folks who build networks and work for incumbents and others. Does the union understand that Rizzo isn't acting in their interests by trying to suppress competitive networks that would increase overall demand for their labor? Or does the union expect these new networks will all be the work of non-union employers?

In Rizzo's letter, he cites Georgia, Iowa, and Oregon as failures. These are fiber-optic installations he's citing, and while I don't know the details on Iowa, both Marietta, Georgia, and Ashland, Oregon's systems have been widely misrepresented through clever accounting omissions by the folks criticizing them.

You'll note that Washington (Tacoma) isn't included in that list. The "analysts" who have critiqued municipal networks do learn: they started omitting Tacoma around the time the New Millennium Research Council report came out because Tacoma (really Tacoma Power, a separately chartered public institution) comes out fighting and has entirely open books on their Web site that refute the contentions of earlier reports. (I've completed half an interview with Tacoma Power that I need to finish so I can write about their fascinating network here.)

Rizzo also doesn't seem to understand how a city could structure a plan in which a private partner would assume all risk. Private/public partnerships are structured all of the time like this and I imagine that the city has some in place already that have the same fiscal controls and contracts.

1 Comment

Concerning Marietta....

The sock puppets love to use this one when dicounting locally run networks. The funny thing is that Marietta didn't even offer residential services, let alone cable tv services. Last I heard, the company that aquired Marietta's assets kept every employee because they were a good example of how a fiber utility should be run. Marietta didn't have to sell - they chose to sell.

The astroturfers whip out these arguments that are like comparing appples to sheep...."Yes but this one doesn't have fur..."