I understood what the Boston Wireless Task Force had proposed from reading Esme Vos’s post on it and reviewing the report. But Sascha Meinrath’s article really brought home how radically different the Boston approach is from, say, the Philadelphia approach.
Philadelphia is letting a private company build a new “last mile” solution. City residents will have a lower-cost alternative, Earthlink, to the two wires currently connecting their homes to the Internet: the copper wires owned by Verizon or the cable wires owned by Comcast. This will have a profound effect on tens of thousands of households that will be getting online for the first time, but it will not fundamentally change our relationship to our communications infrastructure.
Here’s how the Boston Task Force presents that relationship:
Boston sees the new network a little differently. Their proposal imagines it as a neutral platform connecting all of the people in the city to each other, like the streets. The business model is designed to sustain that interconnectedness, allowing users, small businesses, non-profits, and big businesses to offer services that capitalize on it.
It goes even further, as Sascha points out: “Basically, the goal for the Boston wireless network is not just to get broadband access to residents, it is also going to be a proving ground for new business models, technologies, applications, and future innovations.”
Here’s the Boston diagram to express how the nonprofit-owned, open access, neutral network results in more services, applications, and Internet options for the end user.
They even label what is normally called the last mile – the portion of the network that connects your home to the trunk cables running to your neighborhood or street – the first mile, recognizing that content starts at the home.
The second diagram also shows how the Boston model undermines the current duopoly.
Derek Pew, former CEO of Wireless Philadelphia, pointed out to me that what we’ll have in Philadelphia isn’t even a network, really: “Remember that calling it a network is a little bit of a misnomer – it is an access network, but it does not have core network functionality and services – merely a backhaul capability. That makes it a small part of a broadband solution and all cities have a much larger task ahead of them in terms of marrying core functionality and services with access.”
As with the Internet, the wires or wireless connections only become valuable when we do something with them. I expect people in Philadelphia will be surprised at the range of applications that will become possible once the wireless network is in place. Unfortunately, the innovation and experimentation that will incubate those applications may wind up taking place in Boston.