Archive for nyc

Is EarthLink even paying it’s Wireless Philadelphia bills?

If you read the New York Times or keep up on municipal wireless, you saw this weekend’s article, “Hopes for Wireless Cities Fade as Internet Providers Pull Out.”

The key takeaway from the article is Sascha Meinrath’s statement, “The entire for-profit model is the reason for the collapse in all these projects.” It wasn’t wireless technology or municipal engagement that went awry, but the private franchise business model. If you want an expanded discussion of that idea, check out Sascha’s recent article, “Municipal Wireless Success Demands Public Involvement, Experts Say.”

But the second thing you should note is a factual error – and not just because it’s the New York Times. The article says, “In Philadelphia, the agreement was that the city would provide free access to city utility poles for the mounting of routers.” In fact, EarthLink is supposed to be paying $2 million up front plus $2 per pole per month for access to 5,000 poles.

The second half of that $2 million is due one year after Proof of Concept Acceptance, according to Section 7.1.1.3 of the PAID-EarthLink Street Light Use Agreement. (PAID is the Philadelphia Authority for Industrial Development, which owns the poles.) Counting from the press release from May 24, 2007, that deadline is in about 8 weeks. Any bets on whether the City’s going to collect?

I’m not surprised that the Times wouldn’t check the original contracts or even Becca Vargo Daggett’s comprehensive but readable summary. I’m surprised that the City isn’t making it loud and clear that EarthLink owes them money and they intend to collect.

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Vote for the PPH mashup proposal: “The Human Side of the Digital Divide”

Netsquared is holding a “mashup challenge” to find the best ideas for merging different sets of data. I submitted a proposal on behalf of the Digital Expansion Initiative titled “The Human Side of the Digital Divide.”

The proposal is to take the stories we’re gathering from people with marginal access to the Internet and put them in the context of  data about both Internet infrastructure and poverty. Follow the link for more information.

We could win $100,000, but we need you to vote! First you have to log in, then you have to cast at least 5 votes for any one of your votes to count. So, in addition to voting for our proposal, you should vote for these 4 other ones from our media activism community:

Help us all move on to the next round!

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What now for Wireless Philadelphia?

It is now common knowledge that EarthLink has failed to live up to its agreement to build a citywide wireless network for the people of Philadelphia. Fortunately, the Network Agreement gives Wireless Philadelphia various mechanisms to hold the Atlanta-based corporation accountable. For example, WP can declare a “Dark Day” for the system if there is significant outage and compel EarthLink to remedy the situation. Yet WP has not exercised any of these provisions, even though these are clearly dark days for Wireless Philadelphia.

In December, Philadelphia Chief Information Officer Terry Phillis and Wireless Philadelphia Chief Executive Officer went before City Council and assured the members that EarthLink was still hard at work building out the wireless network throughout the city. They promised EarthLink would resolve all of its subscribers’ problems. It is now clear the information they provided was false.

In January, Mr. Phillis told Computerworld that as early as November when EarthLink said it was considering “strategic alternatives” for its municipal wireless division, he understood that “Wi-Fi is no longer in their strategic initiatives, and they wouldn’t make that statement if they were continuing here.”

EarthLink recently affirmed that the project is up for sale. In November, they valued their entire municipal division at $40 million. In a recent filing, they announced losses of $32 million just in the last quarter of 2007. Plus they are hemorrhaging what few subscribers they have. Their primary assets, the thousands of wireless routers on light poles throughout Philadelphia, function poorly and are hard to upgrade. Overall, the Philadelphia network is not an attractive product. Moreover, any buyer would need approval from City Council, where there is little love lost for EarthLink.

Yet the project’s goals – bridging the digital divide, stimulating the local economy, and increasing the efficiency of local government – remain as critical as ever. And federal and state governments still offer more roadblocks than assistance. Unfortunately, the current plan locks the city into a single solution to all of these problems: the stalled, malfunctioning EarthLink network.

Wireless Philadelphia and Mayor Michael Nutter should not wait for a proposal from EarthLink. Neither should the people who this project was originally intended to serve. “We still believe in the vision of an entire city connected,” says Todd Wolfson of the Media Mobilizing Project, which is training new immigrants to make and distribute videos over the wireless network. “But it is going to require a holistic plan that goes beyond the now-tarnished silver bullet offered by former CIO Dianah Neff.”

Greg Goldman recently told The Bulletin, “There are creative ways to re-envision the model.” It is hard to guess what that could mean, but he makes clear that the City will not step in to take over the network.

With finding a buyer unlikely and municipal ownership out of the question, the best hope is that EarthLink will donate the system to a local nonprofit. It is the only option that City Council would look on favorably and the company’s only chance to garner positive publicity. The tax write-off would probably do as much for EarthLink’s bottom line as a fire sale would.

The challenge for this option is that no single organization in Philadelphia has the capacity for such an undertaking or could marshal enough community support. Wireless Philadelphia, which was originally founded to own the network and is supposed to be managing it, is mired in politics and has no technical expertise. To go forward, Philadelphia’s many community technology organizations should come together in shared ownership of the network. Wireless Philadelphia, which has done valuable work in identifying and partnering with some of these groups, could be the vehicle for this, though it would need to be completely restructured.

However the project proceeds, the men who assured City Council in December that everything was on track now lack credibility. Terry Phillis is a holdover from the previous administration, a sad sign that Mayor Nutter is content with the status quo on this issue. Greg Goldman has been apologizing for EarthLink for the past year despite obvious warning signs that the company was neglecting its obligations to the people of Philadelphia. With a new beginning on the horizon, the project needs new leadership. If we act now, we can brighten these dark days for Wireless Philadelphia.

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Report from the Queens hearing of the Broadband Advisory Committee

The NYC Broadband Advisory Committee held its fourth public hearing on Monday, March 3, at LaGuardia Community College in Queens. Much thanks to New York Greater Metropolitan Area chapter of the Internet Society for documenting the hearing. His detailed summary and a full audio recording is available on the ISOC-NY website.

The highlight for me was when former Senator Larry Pressler, who authored the 1996 Telecommunications Act said, “If it is found that in New York City the spectrum and the broadband is not totally out there, that would be a tale that needs to be told.” Indeed.

Councilmember Brewer asked him a question about E-Rate, the federal program to fund Internet access in schools and libraries, and he agreed that it needs to be revisited. As it is now, the federal government tightly restricts E-Rate funds so they can’t even be used to cover access for administrators; they can’t pay for necessary hardware or training; and they can’t support public access, even though schools pay for bandwidth to be available 100% of the time while school is only in session about 15% of the time. In other words, E-Rate is easy money for the big Internet service providers.

If the BAC, or even just Brewer, is pondering reforms to federal policy, that is an extremely positive development. To date, very few municipal broadband task forces have addressed themselves to this area, even though there are many current regulations that hamstring their efforts to improve local infrastructure and expand high speed Internet access. Any worthwhile municipal broadband plan must include policy reform at the federal level.

Although I had already testified at the first hearing in the Bronx, I testified in Queens to offer new suggestions for increasing public engagement in the process, specifically among immigrants who are not aware the process is going on or who cannot attend daytime hearings.

I tried to play a couple of clips from interviews we’ve done – Arturo Mendoza, a construction worker who lives in Ridgewood, Queens, (in Spanish) and Beverly from Canarsie, Brooklyn (in English) – but we ran into technical difficulties. Ironically, that just drove home the point that we need to do more to include people like Arturo and Beverly – working people with limited access to the Internet – in the city’s broadband expansion deliberations, since they’re the ones the process is supposed to serve. (Many more clips are available on the DEI section of the PPH website.)

Councilmember Brewer responded positively to that notion and said she had just been discussing it with Andrew Friedman of Make the Road NYC. She suggested a supplemental event with that specific focus. PPH is now exploring that possibility with our partner organizations. I’m also preparing a brief to distribute to the city’s ethnic press through the New York Community Media Alliance.

I should be clear that, while some people who should be a part of the process have not been able to participate, the Broadband Advisory Committee, Brewer’s office, and Diamond Consultants (working for the NYC Economic Development Corporation) have included a vast range of perspectives. Diamond surveyed library patrons in Manhattan, Brooklyn, and Queens, and a random sampling of public housing residents from across the city. While the library survey was only in English, the NYCHA survey, which was distributed by mail, was in English, Spanish, simplified Chinese, and Russian.

Those surveys are each only one of many sources of information for Diamond’s report, which could be released anytime in the coming weeks. The report will include a presentation of findings, as well as a complete plan for expanding Internet access throughout the five boroughs. The Broadband Advisory Committee is also supposed to present a report within a year of its inception, which would be April 17 if you start the clock from their first meeting.

The BAC will be holding its Staten Island hearing in the near future. I’ll post details when I have them.

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Slingshot Hip Hop showing in NYC

New Yorkers: Your first chance to see Slingshot Hip Hop:

Slingshot Hip Hop is the highly-anticipated documentary about Palestinian hip hop. It premiered recently at Sundance to standing ovations. I had the opportunity to see the finished film in Oakland recently.

It was eye opening for me, as it will be for anyone who has not witnessed or experienced the brutality of Israeli occupation. Beyond that, it is one of the best documentaries on hip hop I have seen. It deftly captures the relationship between the violence of everyday life and music as a form of nonviolent resistance. I look forward to the impact this movie will have on the world.

Jackie Salloum, director of Slingshot Hip Hop, was a keynote speaker at Allied Media Conference 2006. She discussed her experience making the film and later showed clips of the work in progress. If Slingshot Hip Hop is the kind of media you want to learn more about, register for Allied Media Conference 2008.

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Queens public hearing of the NYC Broadband Advisory Committee

On Monday, the New York City Broadband Advisory Committee is holding its Queens public hearing:

WHEN: Monday, March 3, 2008, from 1pm to 4pm
WHERE: LaGuardia Community College, 31-10 Thomson Avenue, Long Island City, NY 11101

Sorry for the late notice, but I just found out yesterday. It’s not even posted on the BAC’s blog. (I’m actually getting an error when I try to load the page right now.)

If you have any questions, post them as comments below. I hope you can be there, though once again the hearing is in the middle of the day. I plan to attend and record it to audio, so stay tuned for updates.

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PPH at the GMC

This Sunday is the 5th annual New York City Grassroots Media Conference. You should attend!

PPH will be there in force. Abdulai, Radha, and Felix from our Community News Production Insitute are doing a workshop on “Reporting from the streets: Workers Redefine Media Justice.”

Radio Rootz, our youth program, is doing a workshop on creating a vox pop, which is like a quick way to capture the views and voices of multiple people on the street. The workshop is not listed in the conference program, but it’s at 12:15pm in room c112.

We’ll be handing out flyers with info about the Rootz workshop. We’ll also be handing out flyers letting people know that they can invite the Digital Expansion Initiative to visit their organization to discuss the city’s plans for expanding access to the Internet. There are big things on the horizon for your computer. If you don’t know about it, drop us a line.

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