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Philly CIO: Public Wi-Fi Needed To Close Digital Divide

Municipalities have the right -- even the obligation -- to establish city-wide wireless networks and the large telecoms that are fighting the trend are hypocritical. That's the word from somebody who is in a strong position to have an opinion on the matter: Dianah Neff, Philadelphia's chief information officer (CIO).

In a far-ranging interview, Neff said that the highly-publicized plan to blanket a 135 square-mile area of Philadelphia with a wireless network will help many people in the city. It also will encourage small business development and improve public education and health, she said.

"One goal of the project is to overcome the digital divide, to train small businesses and disadvantaged people," Neff said.

She said that's the sort of thing that city governments should do for their citizens, but it's not what telecommunications companies like Verizon Communications typically care about the most. Verizon, claiming that municipal networks are anti-competitive, lobbied successfully in Pennsylvania for a law, which Neff called "creepy," that gives telecommunications company the right to veto municipal network plans. It and other incumbent local exchange carriers (ILECs) are pushing similar legislation in other states.

However, Neff said that the business plan for the project, which will be unveiled February 8 when the mayor's office releases its Request For Proposals (RFPs), will create a public-private partnership.

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