An ethereal city

Community wireless is promised for downtown and the north shore by the All Star Game. How important is wireless to city/regional competitiveness? It is such a common issue these days that the current issue of Area Development Magazine asks: Is Wireless the New Wired? Also, the city of St. Paul has just released a thorough Broadband Technology Needs Assessment that is worth a read. What is clear from both is that for a true amenity enhancement, it's the infrastructure and high speed backbone that is also essential to local businesses, not just a few more free hot spots for itinerant blog-readers. One way or the other, there will be challenges. If lessons from a similar plan in New Orleans is any guide, it's not as easy as it would seem.


1 Response to "An ethereal city"

Jefferson Provost said... 6/03/2006 2:38 PM

I think the issue is more one of public perception. It's not so much that having wifi provides a direct increase in regional competitiveness, but that having it indicates the presence of a tech-savvy "laptop culture". BTW, a lot of work gets done in coffeeshops with wifi. I wrote my dissertation proposal in one. Some people start businesses in them.

The Burgh's tech entrepreneurs like to complain about being ignored by tech investors, but to a visitor from a hi-tech town like Austin, the lack of easily available wifi makes it look as if Pittsburghers just don't "get the net". Given the huge number of free hotspots in Austin, I was surprised at how hard it was to find a free hotspot in Pittsburgh. Seems like everyone in the Burgh makes you pay Telerama for access, while in Austin, they give it away as a loss-leader.

This says that either: (a) not enough people want wifi access to make it an effective loss leader, (b) Pgh coffeeshop and restaurant owners have misunderstood the tech needs of their market, or (c) Pgh business owners would like to give away wifi, but don't know how to set it up, so they take the path of least resistance (Telerama). None of these possibilities makes Pittsburgh look like a tech-savvy place.

So, I think the city's wifi initiative could be a good thing for Pittsburgh, if it's well executed, easy to use, and free or very cheap (say $1 for a "day pass").

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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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