But Will It Fly?
Economic disparity in Internet access is well documented, but other barriers make acceptance of migrating online problematic. For instance, the rampant rise of identity theft has increased fear in senior citizens. Culture plays a part as well, with some less-informed people considering the Internet as "an agent of the devil." For the children of such households who eventually must function in the Internet age, this is not a joking matter.
This knowledge gap troubles Charles Kingsley, whose senior thesis earned $20,000 and the post of an overseas fellow with the prestigious Thomas J. Watson Award from Haverford College in Haverford, PA, a Main Line suburb of Philadelphia. In his opinion, "[T]here has been so much emphasis on network planning that little attention has been paid to creating applications that might be of value in the neighborhoods." Kingsley considers the current crop of applications as "not being terribly relevant" to the average person and therefore questions whether significant numbers of households will divert $22 per month from other bills.
He comments, "Philadelphia is not the first city to propose guaranteeing wireless access 'for the people,' but the scale of its development is staggeringly larger than its predecessors such as Lafayette, Louisiana and Madison, Wisconsin—most of whom had no commercial alternative."
Rizzo notes in his letter to the editor  that the cities of Ashland, Oregon and Marietta, Georgia have experienced a significant negative economic impact with their versions of WiFi—a situation that Philadelphia can ill afford. Although Wireless Philadelphia is slated to replace its infrastructure every seven years, he doesn't see how $2 million per year allotted for maintenance will keep up with the fast-changing technology. And, should revenue fall short of expenses, Rizzo wonders whether taxpayers "will ultimately be responsible for the business risk?"
Whatever the final form of this work in progress, one thing is very clear: Mayor John Street's concern for the city's economic viability in the 21st century is laudable—but at what cost?