ICTs for Development

March 28, 2008

Municipal Wifi

Filed under: Uncategorized — clapsansky @ 9:52 am
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Hi guys – I wrote this post 2 weeks ago, but it never got posted, so I thought it has been deleted, but I just found the draft was saved, so I am posting it now. Sorry, I’m new to blogs!

A few weeks ago, Francois posted about the webcast on the future of municipal wifi in the US. I wanted to raise this topic again since todays conversation was so relevant to this issue. Since I am from Philadelphia, I have been reading about the issue as it unfolds there.

Philadelphia’s municipal wifi efforts were launched as a way to close the digital divide between the rich and poor in the city – highlighting once again that the digital divide is not just an issue in LDCs and that indeed “development” issues exist here at home as well. This article nicely outlines the digital inequality in the city and planners’ hopes that the wifi initiative would address it.

The wi-fi initiative in Philadelphia, which involved public-private partnernships between the city and Earthlink, is an interesting example of one potential approach to achieving universal access at the municipal level. However, both in Philadelphia as well as in other cities, such initiatives have faced many obstacles, and Earthlink has pulled out in some areas – higlighting the difficulties involved in getting corporations on-board in servicing low-income markets. This NPR story is a nice overview of the issue, and this article covers some of the difficulties facing Philadelphia.

For a broader discussion on the issue, Robert McChesney’s article Let There Be Wifi: BRoadband is the electricity of the 21 century — and much of America is being left in the dark does a nice job of describing how South Korea and Japan are leaving America in the dust in terms of providing universal broadband access.

While not directly dealing with developing countries, clearly this debate raises many of the questions we talked abotu today : who is best able to develop infrastructure for the public good (governments? private sector?) and how can we ensure equal access to these services?

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