At the City Council hearing today, we found out that negotiations with PECO are ongoing so there would be no vote yet. There was more discussion of the minority- and women-owned enterprise subcontracting requirements and the mechanisms for oversight and reporting.
Councilmembers Tasco, Brown, and Miller seemed satisfied with Earthlink’s efforts to pursue MBE and WBE subcontractors. (The owner of Urban Harvest, which will be doing the pole attachments for Earthlink, was at the hearing.) Apparently, there will be an oversight board to monitor this issue with representatives from Earthlink, Wireless Philadelphia, the Mayor’s office, City Council, and the Minority Business Enterprise Council.
Councilmember Rizzo complained that Comcast and Verizon weren’t involved (let’s not even go there) and aggressively pointed out that Earthlink could do a network without the City or Wireless Philadelphia by contracting directly with PECO, since they own most of the poles in the city. He was phrasing it as a criticism, saying there are other ways this could get done.
In my mind, it’s a reason to thank Earthlink. If they did it that way, they wouldn’t have to build out the entire city or share any revenues with Wireless Philadelphia. Of course, for Earthlink, it’s a business decision: they want the City itself as an anchor tenant, they see the “digital inclusion” money as an investment in potential subscribers, and they want the attention of fulfilling the original RFP.
Councilmember O’Neill, who has been super sharp as the Chair of these hearings, pressed City Solicitor Romulo Diaz on the lack of no-bid contract restrictions, known as 17-1400 regulations, in the City’s management services contract with Wireless Philadelphia. O’Neill was concerned about WP reporting on things like consultants or city agents that advise WP on procurements and could be receiving kickbacks. He was also a little ticked off that Diaz had originally suggested these rules were included in the contract (as they are in the contracts with Earthlink and PAID).
I’m not a lawyer or expert on Philly ethics rules (except to know that we need them) and I can see how any opportunity for graft is a problem. But I’m inclined to accept Diaz’s arguments that there are other reporting requirements in the contract and the 17-1400 regulations would be burdensome for a non-profit of WP’s size.
After the hearing Derek Pew, the interim CEO of WP, said he would not want to restrict Wireless Philadelphia’s ability to promote a local bias in any of its contracting, rather than having to issue an open bid for anyone in the country to offer the lowest price.