The amendments are all designed to give City Council a greater role in the governance of Wireless Philadelphia and the oversight of Earthlink’s wireless network. (See a detailed analysis of the amendments from Hannah Sassaman.)
Yesterday morning, I had been saying to someone that after this vote, City Council wasn’t going to have another vote on the Earthlink network for 20 years. (For background, see my earlier post, City Governance of Wireless Philadelphia.) I’m not sure how much I was overstating the situation, but that’s clearly not the case any longer.
City Council is now involved in every step of the process. All of these amendments relate loosely to issues raised in the hearings, but they really show how the hearings are used as bargaining chips and the issues are all worked out behind closed doors. And they show the extent to which the process is all about brokering power arrangements.
The original proposal brought to City Council balanced power among Earthlink, Wireless Philadelphia, and the executive branch of the city government because those were the parties in on the negotiation. As Chairperson O’Neill said of the amendments, if City Council had been involved earlier in the process, they could have been avoided. Everyone wants a piece of the action.
That’s not such a bad thing. Our whole system of government is premised on distributing power among enough different interests that no one can accumulate excessive power. And, if you believe in representative democracy, then you’ll be happy to have City Council more involved in this project. If, like me, you believe in direct democracy, then you’re still waiting for the opportunity for direct involvement of the people of Philadelphia.
One noticeable absence at today’s hearing was any mention of the negotiations with PECO that had reportedly been the source of earlier delays.
The amendments do impose modified 17-1400 reporting requirements on Wireless Philadelphia and create an MBEC oversight committee, both of which were discussed last week. They also give City Council three appointees to the WP board; the Mayor gets to appoint 4, which then choose another 4; the CIO is an ex oficio member.
Ultimately, these amendments make Wireless Philadelphia much more of a public entity. So much so that I am ready to rescind my “private-private” designation. Now, I’m in favor of oversight and multiple points of entry for people with concerns, but the deal we have now has a lot more bureaucracy and committees. I hope the new CEO of Wireless Philadelphia has time left over to implement the digital expansion programs.
The ordinance will be read into the record today and voted on next Thursday, May 11. After that, Earthlink will start building the 15 square-mile test area.