Yesterday's panel at the WCA show, "Should City-Funded, WiFi Consumer Networks Be Boosted or Banned?," was one of the best sessions I have participated in all year. There was real debate and the speakers and audience were, at times, in outright confrontation.
In terms of the debate itself, Diana Neff, CIO of the City of Philadelphia, and Ron Sege of Tropos Networks, argued for municipal networks while Rob Griffen of Verizon Wireless and Dr. Thomas Lenard of the Progress & Freedom Foundation argued against. The most interesting part of the debate was how the two sides framed the issue. The boosters argued for a model of cooperation between the private and public realms. The two speakers opposed to muni wireless, however, kept positioning the issue in terms of a strict dichotomy: Either the private enterprise will provide broadband or municipalities will.
I think the debate itself was largely a draw, though the audience was clearly on the side of municipal WiFi. Dianah did a great job defending her network initiative in Philadelphia as did Ron in backing the position of Tropos. The meta argument for municipal networks, however, was missing. While the anti municipal network argument has some sound logic, it is rooted in some flawed premises, especially the idea that there is a strict divide between private and public. Telecom is a heavily regulated industry and it is disingenuous to imply that the municipal WiFi initiative is some kind of novel form of anti-competition. In many instances, municipal WiFi is brining competition to markets where is too little competition.
I want to thank all the participants for a great panel. And thanks to the WCA for another great show.
As a reminder, FierceWireless will not publish on Monday, July 4, in observance of the Independence Day holiday in the US. Have a great weekend. - Stephen