More on Market Square

Lynne Kiesling responds to my Market Square post with a long, sympathetic analysis of street life and vehicular traffic. Lynne endorses Patricia Lowry's argument that one great way to revive Market Square would be to add wireless connectivity -- and that the city should encourage and nurture the activities of wireless carriers but not get into the business of offering wireless itself. (As has, say, Philadelphia.)
But here's my question: why should it be the city's doing? The businesses in Market Square and around PPG Plaza would be the largest beneficiaries of a wireless Market Square. They should have an incentive to provide it. Perhaps the Mayor could encourage, suggest, facilitate, but let private initiative make it happen.

The answer is pretty obvious, at least to me: The city, or some public authority, is the right entity to be involved precisely because it's far from clear that the businesses in and around the square and PPG Place either would, in fact, benefit from this, or would recognize those benefits, to such an extent that they would be willing to underwrite the cost of the network. It's an empirical question, right? Figure out who the relevant businesses are (do we count street-level only, or do we count tenants of PPG Place?), and ask them: If everyone chipped in, would you be willing to fund some share of a wireless network for that space? My guess is that the answer would be no. But I'm happy to be proved wrong.

Wireless connectivity in public spaces is, I think, what economists would call a public good, and that means that we shouldn't be so quick to write off government involvement in setting it up in the first place. Or, if the private sector does get this off the ground, then some government entity should be closely involved in regulating both services and prices, so that the public truly gets what the public needs.


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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.

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