Rebuttal to charges by Wireless Philadelphia's Neff

In my post "ISP marketing priorities, cumbersome regulations blamed for U.S.

In my post "ISP marketing priorities, cumbersome regulations blamed for U.S. broadband "fiasco," I cited perspectives and quotes about the city of Philadelphia's efforts to build a municipal Wi-Fi network with Earthlink.

This information, including several quotes attributed to the City of Philadelphia's chief technology officer Dianah Neff, comes via an article that originally ran in "Chief Executive" magazine and has been posted on the RedNova technology news site. Reporter Peter Galuszka's piece had some things to say about the region's incumbent telephone services provider, Verizon, that were not complimentary in the slightest.

Today, I received an interesting email from Verizon spokesperson Evan Wilner. Wilner who has never worked for Verizon or any other telecom and has in fact frequently opposed Verizon in his 12 year stint as Delaware's Public Advocate-  took profound exception to the entire slant of Galuska's article, including the portion of Galuska's article that reads as follows and quotes Neff as saying:

"Dianah Neff, Philadelphia's chief information officer, bristled in frustration when she reviewed the broadband penetration rates for her 135-square-mile city. Broadband, or high-speed Internet, was reaching only 58 percent of the City of Brotherly Love in total, although 90 percent of nearby affluent neighborhoods had been linked.

"The reason? Local telecoms and cable firms, specifically Verizon and Comcast, were setting up broadband networks at their own pace and discretion, she says. They were targeting places where they could bundle separate services and sell them at greater profit margins. Low-income sections and some industrial parks supporting small and middle-sized businesses simply had to wait. 'The Digital Divide is very real in Philadelphia,'" says Neff.

Verizon's Wilner strongly disagrees. Here is what he says in response, verbatim:

"1. Fact One. The City of Philadelphia consists of 135 square miles contiguous with the boundaries of Philadelphia County. There's no evidence that broadband access is denied to any populated portion of the city, that portions of the city are unserved by either the incumbent local exchange carrier, Verizon, or one of the local cable providers, the largest of which is the nation's largest, Comcast Cable. Comcast is headquartered in Philadelphia.
"It's pure, unadulterated bunk to claim that either the local phone company or the local cable company is denying service to any customer who wants it, let alone that a plan is in place to deny broadband access service to "cherry-pick" customers based upon their ability to pay.
"2. Fact Two. There is no $18 million Wireless Philadelphia Wi-Fi Project, as you styled it with capital letters. There is a ten-person body known as Wireless Philadelphia appointed by Mayor John Street. It has no funding to do anything.
"3. Fact Three. In so far as the secrecy surrounding it has been pierced by alert local reporters, the quasi-governmental 10-person appointive body known as Wireless Philadelphia is negotiating to hand over the right to own and operate a wireless Internet ISP to publicly-traded, for profit Earthlink.
"What appears to be emerging---swathed in secrecy---is a deal to give Earthlink access to the city's streets and buildings to set itself up a wireless ISP. Secret contractual terms are being negotiated that will include some payments by Earthlink to the quasi-governmental Wireless Philadelphia group.
"Let's debunk the last part of the myth. Washington's crossing of the Delaware beats Philadelphia's crossing of the digital divide. Here's why.
"The income.  An Inquirer reporter wrote that  "Wireless Philadelphia initially projected 87,000 customers at the end of the system's first year." (Why 87,000 and not 85,000?) "Wireless Internet plan raises hopes, questions". Inquirer, October 19, 2005.
"If WP/Earthlink were to attract 87,000 paying customers at the proposed rate of $20 a month, it would earn $1,740,000 a month or $20,880,000 a year. If the thus-far secret Earthlink payments are equal to the federally-mandated 5% levy on cable company revenues, Earthlink would pay $1,044,000 a year to Wireless Philadelphia.
"The expenditures.  The reporter wrote that  "Neff wants to get 10,000 computers to needy people within five years." Two thousand computers a year at $400 each (10,000 within five years) would consume 80% of the Earthlink annual payment to the city/Wireless Philadelphia. The money left over would subsidize fewer than 1,700 Internet users paying  $10 a month.
"There are approximately 200,000 Philadelphia public school students. If half of them lack computers at home, and if each school child comes from a family with two children in school, that's a current shortfall of 50,000 computers a year for Philadelphia's school children..
"The benefits. Two thousand free computers for school children who don't have them at home will reach one home out of twenty-five each year. The remaining funds, about $200,000, could cut Internet access bills by $10 a month for 1,700 customers out of a projected 87,000 total.
"Do these tiny benefits justify a secret bargain to hand over access to the city's streets and buildings?