Philadelphia Citywide WLAN in Jeopardy

By Eric Griffith

November 18, 2004

A potential state law in Pennsylvania would make it illegal for municipal governments to offer broadband, including Wi-Fi.

It's called House Bill 30, and it's currently in the Pennsylvania General Assembly. If it eventually passes the state Senate and gets a signature from the governor, it could be the end of any municipally-run broadband (wireless or wired) throughout the state. That includes the much-hyped plans by the city of Philadelphia to make a giant wireless cloud.

The Philadelphia Inquirer reported today on opposition to the bill by supporters of the Philly plan.

House Bill 30 states specifically that "a political subdivision [defined as any county, city, borough, incorporated town, township, municipality, municipal authority or county institution district] or any entity established by a political subdivision may not provide to the public for compensation any telecommunications services, including advanced and broadband services, within the service territory of a local exchange telecommunications company operating under a network modernization plan."

Translation: cities and towns can't provide for-fee broadband (like a Wi-Fi hotzone) if it competes with a company already providing a similar service (even wired services like DSL or cable modems).

The bill would replace the state's ten year old telecom bill, which expired last year. Each bill defined the rules of how telecom providers can compete. House Bill 30 includes a number of other items, such as benefits to education and to rural areas through funds created by telecom companies, and a requirement of high-speed Internet access for everyone in the state by 2008.

A Verizon official is quoted in the Inquirer piece as saying there's nothing new in the bill, which has been in process for a year. Comcast, which would face the Philly WLAN as competition, says the WLAN plan isn't a threat since Comcast cable modems have value-adds like video e-mail.

Supporters of the Philadelphia WLAN plan, proposed by the city's mayor a few weeks ago, say the bill only helps the private sector serve the rich.



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