The brewing battle over municipal Wi-Fi heated up yesterday as Intel, with the support of Dell, Cisco, IBM, and SAP, unveiled the "Digital Communities" effort. Thirteen cities - from Philadelphia to Rio - are participating in the project, which is designed to provide technical resources and discounts to help them build out their wireless infrastructure to better support public safety and other government employees, according to a report on CNET's News.com.
In a teleconference event held yesterday, Intel's director of sales and marketing, Anand Chandrasekher, said: "As wireless technology continues to evolve, local governments are seizing the opportunity to address critical issues in their community including equal and affordable access to broadband and more efficient and effective government services. We are working closely with these communities to help them take the next step and harness the benefits of wireless technology. The benefits include lower cost of operations, enhanced public safety and security, and a foundation for growth and competitiveness."
Diana Neff, CIO of Philadelphia, which has been on the cutting edge and the firing line of municipal wireless, participated, saying:
We believe our wireless network will ensure efficiencies for government, business and citizens in the areas of reducing processing time by as much as two hours per day for field operations staff; lowering cost of high-speed Internet access for small and disadvantaged businesses to help them grow or create new companies; connecting parents with schools to access homework, tutorials and advanced classes, ensuring a successful future for all children; and providing computers, training and affordable connectivity to all people regardless of their economic status.
Dan Farber recently interviewed Neff about Philadelphia's Wi-Fi efforts .
While much of the talk was about public safety networks and efficient government operations, Intel is clearly identifying digital divide and inexpensive access for the disadvantaged as a core function of municipal networks. That has been a point of contention between governments, incumbent providers like Verizon, and Republican lawmakers like Rep. Pete Sessions of Texas and Sen. John Ensign of Nevada. To some degree this suggests a battle is being joined with high-tech on the one side and telco/cables on the other and government being caught in the middle.