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City of Narrowing Shoulders and Big Ideas: Technology and Politics in Philadelphia

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Title: City of Narrowing Shoulders and Big Ideas: Technology and Politics in Philadelphia
Author: Kingsley, Chris
Advisor: McDonogh, Gary
Department: Bryn Mawr College. Growth and Structure of Cities Program
Type: Thesis (B.A.)
Running Time: 485671 bytes141761 bytes
Issue Date: 2005
Abstract: Mayor Street announced on August 25, 2004 that Philadelphia would provide free wireless access to the Internet from all 135 square miles of the city within two years. The press was understandably slow to respond to Mayor Street’s declaration; not only does Philadelphia’s plan defy all conventional wisdom regarding the role of municipalities in providing telecommunications services to citizens, but the decision had come, seemingly, out of nowhere. There had been no lobbying by businesses, no expectation on the part of Philadelphia’s citizens, and no shortage of companies to provide such services for a fee. What prompted the Mayor to spin off his own Internet Service Provider? The subsequent rationale provided by Philadelphia’s Executive Wireless Committee has been inconsistent. No network in America comes close to equaling the size of Philadelphia’s proposed wireless cloud, and it is plausible that by “throwing its hat into the wireless the ring,” the city is aiming for another of the firsts in innovation for which it was once renowned, but lately incapable of providing. Notoriety, then, may be a factor motivating the city’s support of this high-tech public works project. Also, Philadelphia seems to believe that not providing citywide access will retard its already anemic economic growth. A consensus is growing among policy makers that “just as roads, canals and railroads revolutionized 19th century America by connecting industries and people,” broadband networks are critical to urban economic expansion in the 21st century. Philadelphia wishes to be a participant in that transformation, not a spectator to it. Lastly, experience in other American cities has demonstrated that through “e-government” applications, cities can become more efficient, can provide better education, and can extend new and empowering forms of “electronic citizenship” to its residents. E-government cannot function without the Internet being available to the citizens, and without public intervention of the sort promised by the Mayor it seems clear that Philadelphians will remain particularly disconnected.
Subject: Wireless Internet -- Pennsylvania -- Philadelphia
Subject: Philadelphia (Pa.) -- Politics and government
Access Restrictions: Open Access
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Kingsley, Chris. "City of Narrowing Shoulders and Big Ideas: Technology and Politics in Philadelphia". 2005. Available electronically from

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