TELECOM Digest OnLine - Sorted: What We Have Here Is a Failure to Communicate

What We Have Here Is a Failure to Communicate

Monty Solomon (
Mon, 31 Oct 2005 01:32:10 -0500

Media Frenzy

JOHN F. STREET, the mayor of Philadelphia, perhaps put it best at the
announcement of a new corporate headquarters for the Comcast
Corporation early this year: "As Microsoft is to Seattle and Coca-Cola
is to Atlanta, Comcast is a symbol of Philadelphia's growth and
innovation." So imagine if the city of Seattle decided to make Linux a
cornerstone of its civic software strategy, or Atlanta sponsored a
program that made Snapple the official beverage of its school system.

That's basically what has happened with a plan by Mr. Street to put
Philadelphia on the map with Wireless Philadelphia, a new municipal
wireless Internet service that, if all goes as planned, would be a
City Hall-sanctioned competitor to Comcast. (Although Comcast would
probably prefer the analogy of Atlanta making something less palatable
-- like carrot juice, the official school drink -- it doesn't think
Philadelphia's plan is going to fly.)

Municipal wireless programs have become a hotly debated subject,
thanks to the recent news that Philadelphia has selected EarthLink
Inc. to build and run its new network and that mighty Google has
proposed to play a similar role in San Francisco. The general idea --
one that itself is subject to much expostulation -- is that broadband
Internet access is too expensive in the United States, which risks
falling behind countries like South Korea and Japan in this area.

Wireless Philadelphia is intended to put the city on the map, both in
proving its technological chops and in bridging the digital divide
with poorer residents who don't tend to have high-speed Internet
services if they have Internet service at all. On the face of it, the
fact that the city is moving ahead without Comcast's involvement -
indeed, over Comcast's open derision - raises a lot of intriguing
questions not only about wireless Internet services but also about how
much brotherly love has been lost between the nation's largest cable
operator and Philadelphia, the fifth-largest city.

It also illustrates the frustration that Brian L. Roberts, the chief
executive of Comcast, must feel: his company has signed up more
high-speed Internet customers than any other and churns out buckets of
cash, yet it has a sagging stock price because the market perceives
that any number of unproven new businesses are going to usurp its
position. Add Wireless Philadelphia -- brought to you by the people who
regulate aspects of his business -- to the list.

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