Does Muni Broadband Make Sense?

The AP is reporting the latest on Philadelphia’s deal with EarthLink to provide municipal wireless broadband. I’m in favor of the notion of “Internet for all,” but am not convinced that this makes sense. Arguments against muni-wifi include worries that government intervention will harm commercial investment. Furthermore, Philly city government does not have the best record for business relations.

In Philadelphia, EarthLink will own the network and charge a wholesale rate of $9 a month to Internet service providers that would then resell access to the public, according to Dianah Neff, the city’s chief information officer.The contract doesn’t specify the monthly rate that would be charged to consumers, but Neff said the wholesale price is low enough to enable ISPs to offer low-cost services. City officials had been trying to keep the monthly price to $20 or less.The contract will go before the City Council for approval in February. Construction should start right after the contract is signed. EarthLink will build the network initially over a 15-square-mile area in Northeast Philadelphia to prove the system will work, Neff said. If successful, citywide access could be turned on by spring 2007.EarthLink also will pay the city and Wireless Philadelphia, the nonprofit handling the project, a fee to mount equipment on city infrastructure, such as lamp posts.

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