Open Access Wi-Fi in Pittsburgh

The local Information Communications Technologies Working Group is studying the feasibility of the City's offering wireless broadband Internet access for the entire city, a prospect that, on the surface, sounds tempting: Put Pittsburgh on the map as a high-tech center with a hip and splashy open access rollout, and push broadband into under-served communities in the process. In other words: Let's get everyone into the knowledge economy. It's a no-lose proposition for bringing Pittsblog to the masses (just kidding here), except that the financing needed to put the plan in place, and the uncertainty of making any money in the process, means that it can't be high on the priority list. It's just too expensive right now.

Philly is a bit farther along with a similar idea, and as a result Verizon woke up recently and persuaded our friends in Harrisburg to add language to a bill (HB 30) that would, in effect, ban municipalities in Pennsylvania from offering high speed broadband access "for compensation" over the objection of local telephone companies. This is crazy stuff, even if it's equally crazy right now for Pittsburgh to get into the broadband business. If the Governor signs the bill, it's Verizon or nothing. Today was the last day for the Governor to act. It looks to me, right now, like he neither signed the bill nor vetoed it. We'll know tomorrow.

UPDATE (12/1/04): Bad news. The Governor signed the bill, even though he noted this deficiency. Wireless rollout in Philly is still going forward, because Verizon has agreed to waive its rights under the law. But this is still a corporate giveaway of the highest order, and there's no assurance that the company will be so forgiving in the future.


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Pittsblog 2.0 is written by Mike Madison, a law professor at the University of Pittsburgh. Send email to michael.j.madison[at] Mike also blogs at, on law and technology. Chris Briem of Null Space drops by from time to time.

All opinions expressed at Pittsblog 2.0 are those of their respective authors and of no one (and no thing) else, least of all the University of Pittsburgh.

Pittsblog 2.0 has a motto: "It's steel good in Pittsburgh." Say it aloud, with a Pittsburgh accent.

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