I appreciate Charlie's post on Wifi. Can't we believe that cities are still capable of providing public services? There are a number of problematic examples of private companies taking over public utilities such as water and electricity. The experience from these experiments illustrates a number of useful lessons in who gets left out and how and where the money is spent.
That said, I also believe that broadband is a fundamentally different kind of service than water and sewer. We no longer live in an age when cities provided all services as well as funding for revitalization activities. Community groups, banks and institutions (to name a few) all play a major role in the city planning process that augments what any one city can reasonably accomplish on their own. The success of specific neighborhoods in furthering revitalization efforts is often based on their ability to organize, plan and, with the city's help, implement. Its these grass-roots efforts that should be supported by city policy and this is where I have issues with the Philadelphia wireless plan.
Does the entire City really need Wifi? Should we not just target the underserved neighborhoods? Can we use the money currently allocated for the plan as an incentive for neighborhoods to create technology plans that identify what they need and how they will use it? CDBG funds and other monies are not thrust upon neighborhoods without a plan for what it is going to be used for. Wifi should be no different.
So what is the role of cities in facilitating stronger broadband access and use? A few things that could be discussed include: Removing the barriers that impede neighborhoods from bringing Wifi to their communities; Developing partnerships with private companies to assist neighborhoods in realizing their goals and; Encouraging neighborhoods to organize and create local initiatives unique to their context with the strategic use of public dollars for implementation. This may seem idealistic but Wifi has brought forward an interesting issue regarding the role of city government in this day and age. I haven't even broached the topic of whether the technology will outpace the government's ability to implement and maintain the network.....another time
Scott Page is the founder of Interface Studio, a collaborative design office based in Philadelphia.