Hannah Sassaman — Banned from the National Association of Broadcasters Since 2002


Wireless Philadelphia’s Proof of Concept Accepted by the City
May 24, 2007, 1:59 pm
Filed under: philadelphia, wireless

FYI: The City of Philadelphia has decided that the proof-of-concept area that Earthlink built is providing enough reliable service permit Earthlink to build a wireless network over the entire 135 square miles of the city.

I’m interested to hear from folks who live in and around that area — is the service you are receiving reliable? Are the login-splash pages peppered with Earthlink ads, or do they include community information? Did your Wireless Philadelphia service help you figure out how to vote in the recent Mayor and City Council race?

I’m also interested to hear which criteria WP and the City used to judge that the proof-of-concept area and its service was up to snuff.

Price Points:

“Consumers who sign up for EarthLink Wi-FiSM will enjoy download and upload speeds up to 1 Mbps for a limited time promotional rate of $6.95 a month for the first six months, returning to the recurring rate of $19.95 a month thereafter. For consumers that want even more speed, EarthLink is offering a 3 Mbps download and 1 Mbps upload service for only $9.95 for the first six months, returning to the recurring rate of $21.95 a month thereafter.”

Identifying who is eligible for reduced rates in the ‘Digital Inclusion’ program:

EarthLink is also working with Wireless Philadelphia to promote ‘Digital Inclusion,’ a cornerstone of the project – which is a program to offer qualifying Philadelphia residents Internet access at the discounted rate of $9.95 per month, before any promotional opportunities. In order to be eligible for this rate, customers can have income up to 150% of the federal poverty level, or participate in certain supportive programs such as Transitional Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) Medicaid, or Supplemental Security Income. For more information on Wireless Philadelphia’s Digital Inclusion program, visit http://www.wirelessphiladelphia.org/digital_inclusion.cfm .

Bundling:

In addition to signing up for EarthLink’s monthly subscription product, EarthLink Wi-Fi, consumers can buy access to the network at competitive prices in one-hour, one-day, or three-day increments. Customers can also sign up for a monthly subscription from EarthLink’s wholesale partners – People PC (www.peoplepc.com) DirecTV ( www.directv.com), SuperPA.net ( www.superpa.net) and Pennsylvania Online (www.paonline.com ).

Download the full press release here: http://wirelessphiladelphia.net/wp_poc_press_release.doc.



Amendments to Wireless Philadelphia Ordinance: A DISSECTION!
May 4, 2006, 4:27 am
Filed under: philadelphia, rants, wireless

Today, the City Council of Philadelphia's joint committees on Technology & Information services, and Public Property & Public Works, voted to authorize the city's plan to permit the building of a City wide wireless network. While I and a number of other community media and technology advocates have appreciated that the city has taken a long time to examine and understand just what it is getting into, I have to admit a certain amount of glee that the process is moving forward! That means that there'll be a lot of chances for many many people across the city to learn about the network and figure out the best ways to engage with it. More on that as it develops.

The major thing of note that happened at the hearing — besides another palpable experience for me and my Prometheus coworker of watching the city council members ask important questions in a monotone, obviously echoing previously conducted closed-door conversations that council had held with Earthlink, the city solicitor, and Wireless Philadlephia — was that a number of amendments were made to the ordinance. My amendment-by-amendment blow-by-blow rough thoughts on them are below.

If the length of this note terrifies you, my quick opinion is that the city has succeded in preserving the design of keeping the major financial responsibilities of the wireless network between two private organizations (WP and Earthlink), while gaining for itself, and for the Philadelphia community, a considerable amount of public oversight over these companies. I hope to be able to spend more time with these amendments and with the original ordinance, so we can learn from the muscles that our City Council chose to flex in response to this proposal, which muscles other cities might choose to flex.

There are a number of open questions, most notably about how the advisory committee/board system will work. Read on!

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PROPOSED AMENDMENTS TO BILL NO. 060160

Matter added by amendment is in bold
Matter deleted by amendment is in strikethrough

1. Section 4 of the Bill is amended to read as follows:

SECTION 4. The City Solicitor is hereby authorized to include in said agreements such other terms and conditions as he or she deems necessary or desirable to protect the interest of the city. The City Solicitor may make technical changes and amendments to the agreements to conform with technical or legal requirements, to the extent such changes or amendments have no material financial impact on the City and no material impact on the relationships between or among the parties; other amendments of the agreements may be made only if prior to execution such as amendment is approved by the President of City Council; provided, however, that if the President of City Council believes (and such President's determination in this regard shall be final and conclusive) that any such proposed amendment would materially adversely affect the rights, powers, or financial obligations of the City, or materially diminish the obligations of any party to the City, then such amendment must be approved by ordinance prior to execution.

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OK. What this new added text seems to say, is that Solicitor Diaz,a regular fixture on the panel of all of these hearings, is authorized to make changes to the agreements between the City and Wireless Philadelphia, in order to make those agreements conform with -technical and legal issues- that all parties may have missed, or that may come up in the future. He'll only be able to do that if those changes in the agreements are cost-neutral to the city, Wireless Philadelphia, and Earthlink.

Amendments that don't have to do with technical or legal issues would be made with final veto or approval power in the hands of the President of City Council, -if he thinks- they are not financially costly to the city. If he does think they are costly, he gets to open a whole new lawmaking process to deal with the new change in the agreement.

While this is one clear instance of a public elected official building a point of intersection with the wireless plan, man, I hope Frank Rizzo doesn't become the chair of the City Council in that case. If the City attempts to amend the lightpole agreements or any of its relationships with Wireless Philadelphia to materially improve the network, based on new technology developments, etc, or the development of new players in the wireless community who might take on some of the burdens now being held solely by WP, Earthlink, and the City and its departments (PAID, etc), he can use his power to cause a whole new ordinance (the equivalent of a bill in state and federal legislation) to be opened to deal with the question. This could slow to a crawl any major improvements or progress on the network.

I could be reading too much into this — these are changes to the -agreements-, not to the network, and there is language about making sure that Earthlink's obligations to the city aren't diminished. I'm just a bit concerned about abuse here. OK.

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2. Exhibit B to the Ordinance is to be amended as follows:

MANAGEMENT AND SERVICES AGREEMENT

- – -

Section 2. DEVELPMENT AND IMPLEMENTATION OF PROGRAMS

2.7 FILING OF REPORTS. All filings by WP of reports with the City pursuant to Sections 2.4 and 2.5 shall be filed with the Managing Director and the Chief Clerk of Council.

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OK. So this is referring to sections of the management and services agreement between the city and Wireless Philadelphia. And all it is saying is that when WP files reports with the city on its annual budget for how it runs itself and for the digital divide programs (section 2.4 of the management agreement) and on its actual spending for the fiscal year (section 2.5) that those reports need to be filed with the Mayor and with the Chief Clerk of City Council. That means the Mayor gets to see the budget and the money spent by the nonprofit, and that the official record keeper of City Council puts both the budget and the spending report on record. All members of City Council will then get a copy of this information.

Section 2.5 of the WP Management Services Agreement, by the way, gives the city the power to retain a consultant to review the WP budget and spending records if they are not delivered on time and are 90 days late, and to produce a report on behalf of WP in such a case. Good news.

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2.8 ADVISORY COMMITTEE. In order to protect hte interests of the citizens with respect to the development and implementation of programs set forth in this Section 2, including in particular programs intended to bridge the digital divide, and otehrwise with respect to the operation of WP, WP agrees to establish and maintain an Advisory Commitee, the members of which shall be appointed one each by the seventeen members of City Council, the Mayor the Controller, the District Attorney, the Register of Wills, the Sheriff, and the Clerk of Quarter Sessions, plus such members of the community as the Chair of the WP Board shall select so long as the total number of members does not exceed twenty five (25).

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Advisory Committee rather than Community Advisory Board? Do we care?

Wow. So this is interesting. I was concerned that this Advisory Committee would be taking the place of a committee that I'd heard some folks bandy about — a Community Advisory Board. This theoretical group would have some kind of formal status and relationship with WP, and would hopefully consist of community stakeholders and technology leaders who could really help to implement the community internet service programs. Would this Advisory Committee replace that potential board?

I chatted with Councilman O'Neill and Councilwoman Brown, the Chair and Vice Chair of the Committee on Technology & Information Services, after the hearing and the vote. They said they were interested in all opportunities to hear from community members on this issue and that they weren't cancelling the original board. I'm confused about what the role for the 2nd would be.

The other interesting thing to note about the above text is that all of the appointees to this Advisory Committee (except the 2 potential appointees that the WP Board Chair is allowed to make if he/she wants) would be made by elected officials, which gives some comfort if we're looking to understand where the public has potential impact on the direction of the Wireless Philadelphia plan. If elected officials appoint the Advisory members, that's an OK conduit. That is, if the city officials bother to appoint people, let alone good people to the AC.

It's not nearly as good as a Community Advisory Board would be working in partnership with or seeding the members of the Advisory Commitee. If we can't exactly trust that our elected officials will appoint people from a diversity of communities, that they will appoint people who are unexpected but essential stakeholders in this process, we should most certainly supplement the Advisory Committee with another Community Advisory Board. Which is why I'm glad to understand that it won't be elimintated as this ordinance passes and this process begins in earnest. More thoughts on the roles of Community Advisory Boards and an Advisory Committee below:

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2.8 Cont'd. The Advisory Committee shall annually review WP's budget and meet quarterly with the Chief Executive Officer of WP to discuss community concerns and possible solutions thereto, all as they may relate to protection of the community's interests. The Committee shall also serve as the communications nexus for community concerns, will act as the liason between City elected officals and WP and shall perform such other services as the Chair of WP and the Committee shall from time to time agree upon.

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OK, so it looks like the Advisory Committee will review the budget (as will the mayor and City Council, as put forward in the previous amendment and in the WP/City Management Services Agreement), but with specific interest on the broad topic of 'community concerns'. My questions for the designers of this committee:

1) How does the community express its concerns to the Advisory Committee? How do they hear about it and let their councilpeople know that they'd like to be on board?

A Community Advisory Board might put forward candidates for the Advisory Committee, nominating people to City Council, or they might have tasks of finding Advisory Committee members for the appointees, from stakeholder communities like youth, single parents, health care workers, community media makers, etc.

2) how are 'community's interests' defined for the Advisory Board?

We have not yet had a formal chance to speak to the City, to Earthlink or to Wireless Philadelphia on our needs from this network. A community forum is an essential step to defining these interests. These interests must be redefined regularly by Community Advisory Board members and by those people to whom CAB members speak regularly, as well as by the city at large.

3) As a 'communications nexus', does the Advisory Committee take in complaints and shunt them to City Council? To the Wireless Philadelphia CEO? To Earthlink?

No matter what system is established, part of the public outreach campaign to all subscribers, but especially to those who use the Digital Inclusion rate (currently set at $9.95/month but supposedly designed to go down, according to what current WP CEO Derek Pew said at today's hearing) should be a clearly drawn map for all subscribers on how complaints they have about the network get resolved. Much of the time we'll be calling Earthlink customer service directly to say things like "My connectivity is down," and "I want to build a webpage for my cat." But what if my question is, "How do I get the article about my school's budget crisis from the _Philadelphia School Notebook_ on the front page of my neighborhood's wireless log-in page?" or "I feel like I was treated unfairly by the customer service representatives at my ISP?" Clear definition of 'communications nexus' would be awesome.

4) A 'liason between City elected officals and WP' — does that mean that if someone complains to their city councilwoman that their wireless is down that the councilwoman takes it to the Advisory Committee? And vice versa — if a number of complaints aggregate in the 9th district — Counciwoman Tasco's district — does the Advisory Board take the complaints to that Councilperson so that they know that their district isn't being served, and an amendment to the Ordinance might be necessary to amend the problem? Let's clarify the liason role.

5) In terms of 'other services' that this board might do — appropriate ones might be to help with fundraising, if so much of the budget for community internet services will be coming from private funds instead of the profit-sharing from Earthlink. But to engage regularly with a larger group of community leaders and stakeholders that self-organize into a Community Advisory Board — that should be on the list.

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3.1 APPROVAL REQUIRED

Notwithstanding anything to the contrary contained in this Management Agreement, in the event that WP and/or the WP Members of the Steering Committee request an approval of the City required under this Management Agreement (including without limitation pursuant to this Section 3.1), and the city fails to respond within 30 days after the City's receipt of such request the City shall respond within thirty days after receipt of such request (or if a shorter period to respond is required by an applicable provision of the Network Agreement and such request by WP expressly discloses such shorter response period and such notice is promptly provided, and the City fails to respond by the expiration of such shorter response period, then within such shorter period) either affirmatively, negatively or by certifying that additional time is needed, in which case the City shall have an additional thirty days (or such shorter period as may be provided by an applicable provision of the Network Agreement) to respond, and in the absence of any of the foregoing, the City shall be deemed to have granted its approval and then WP and/or the WP Members of the Steering Commitee shal be permitted in such instance to make such decision or grant such approval or consent under the Network Agreement. In addition to submitting any requests for approval under this Section to the Managing Director, WP shall submit copies of any requests for approvals under Section 3.1 (b), (d), (i), or (j) to the Chief Clerk of City Council within three days thereafter.

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So this section seems to strengthen City oversight over some aspects of the Network that are already pulled out as needing City oversight in the Management Services Agreement. In reading the referrals to Section 3.1 of the network agreement, these oversights extend to the design and buildout of the system itself. There is a process by which Design Control Documents are sent by Earthlink to Wireless Philadelphia for approval. WP can send concerns about the system design and call a meeting for 2 weeks later to discuss those concerns. ("Design Concern Notice"). Earthlink cannot proceed with the Proof of Concept until WP's concerns have been resolved. The Network Agreement states: "The Design Control Documents, that are prepared and amended by EarthLink pursuant to the Preliminary Design Review and that are either (i) approved by WP or (ii) to which WP does not send a Design Concern Notice, will be the only specifications, requirements and schedule governing the installation services in the Proof of Concept Trial." So speak up, or forever hold your peace — they'll build what we don't complain about, people.

More city involvement here is good, but it would be better if the Community Advisory Board or the Advisory Committee got to see Design Control Documents and the like. Community members will be no less technically ignorant than City Council members, and may have more literacy in network buildout. Their oversight may be helpful as the Proof of Concept buildout is pursued and as the whole network is constructed, even for detailed technical questions like this.

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4.2 MINORITY, WOMAN AND DISABLED OWNED BUSINESS PARTICIPATION REPORTS. Any reports from Earthlink with respect to the use of qualifying Subcontractors pursuant to Section 12.2 of the Network Agreement shall be provided to the City and to the Diversity Oversight Committee by WP as soon as practicable. The Diversity Oversight Committee shall consist of five members, appointed as follows: One each by the Mayor, the Director of the Minority Business Enterprise Council, the Chair of the WP Board, Earthlink Inc., and City Council. The Commitee shall be authorized to review and report on Earthlink's diversity outreach activities, including but not limited to those set forth in Section 12.2 of the Network Agreement.

———————-

Councilwomen Brown and Tasco asked many important questions about how the complicated infrastructure of Wireless Philadelphia, Earthlink, and its contractors would be able to respect important minority hiring standards for Philadelphia projects. This Diversity Oversight Committee will hopefully have considerable oversight and power, but this power isn't stipulated here. Could a Community Advisory Board help to collect community leaders with experience in this kind of oversight when it comes to Philadelphia government contracts?

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5.2 Changes to Articles and Bylaws. Any changes to the Articles of Incorporation or Bylaws of WP shall require the written consent of the City (which consent shall not be unreasonably withheld or delayed), except that any change to the manner of selection of the Board of Directors of WP shall require the approval of City Council by ordinance.

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This refers to a later section in the amendments where the makeup of the Wireless Philadelphia board is changed to have new members appointed by Council. This is another instance where our elected officials are trying to preserve the representation they've established on the board. I'll say it again later, but I hope that we develop a strong mechanism for informing City Council of our desires when it comes to board appointees. Still it's great to see that it's a hard process to change the board of directors, and that any major change would require public oversight. This will keep the board from getting stocked fast, without our potential involvement…

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9.9 DUTIES AND COVENANTS PURSUANT TO 17-1400.

a) WP shall abide by the provisions of Philadephia Code Chapter 17-1400 in awarding any contract(s) pursuant to this Agreement as though such contracts were directly subject to the provisions of Chapter 17-1400, except that the exception set forth in Subsection 17-1406(6) shall apply to WP as if WP were listed in that subsection.

b) Unless approved by the City to the contrary, any approvals required by the Philadelphia Code Chapter 17-1400 to be performed by the City Solicitor shall be performed by WP by such counsel as may be appointed by the Board of Directors of WP; any approvals required to be performed by the Director of Finance shall be performed by WP, by its Treasurer, and any approvals required to be performed by the Mayor shall be performed by WP by its Chief Executive Officer.

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This amendment gives WP a lot of proxy powers reserved for the City when it makes decisions about public, non-competitively bid contracts.

What are no-bid contracts? These contract processes allow the city to make decisions about contractor hires without forcing potential contractors to bid against each other. This allows the city to make decisions about who it hires based on other criteria — including minority ownership, geographic location, or a particular type of social gain that isn't evident in a lowest-bid-wins hiring process. It makes a lot of sense that City Council would ask about adherence to 17-1400 in the same breath in which they asked about minority hiring practices at the various corporations involved in this process if they care about these criteria.

City Solicitor Diaz was worried that a nonprofit the size of WP couldn't deal with the processing and bureaucracy required to process no-bid contracts, but somewhere along the line they worked that WP could perform proxy duties that the city is generally required to do when processing these contracts. Cool.

The Subsection exception listed above streamlines the application for certain not-for-profit city departments,like the Health Department and the Office of Adult Services. So WP would get this exception too, further streamlining processes.

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Exhibit B ("Articles of Incorporaton and By-Laws of Wireless Philadelphia" to the foregoing Exhibit B is to be amended as follows:

SECTION 1. ARTICLE IV — BOARD OF DIRECTORS

* * *SECTION 2. NUMBER, TENURE, AND QUALIFICATIONS. The number of Directors of the Corporation may vary from time to time but shall be no moe than nine eleven . The Directors shall consist of the Appointed Directors, the Elected Directors nad the Chief Information Offices of the City ("CIO"), as provided in Article IV, Section 5. No Appointed Director shall be an elected or appointed public official.

Four Seven Appointed Directors shall serve for four year terms; provided that the initial Appointed Directors appointed by the Mayor shall serve for staggered terms as follows: (i) one with a term ending on December 31st, 2006; (ii) one with a term ending on December 31st, 2007; (iii) one with a term ending on December 31, 2008; and (iv) one with a term ending on December 31, 2009, and the initial Appointed Directors appointed by the President of City Council of the City shall serve for staggered terms as follows: (i) one with a term ending on December 31, 2007; (ii) one with a term ending on December 31, 2008; and (iii) one with a term ending on December 31, 2009.

Four Elected Directors shall serve for four year termsl provided that the initial Elected Directors shall serve for staggered terms as follows: (i) one with a term ending on December 31, 2006; (ii) one with a term ending on December 31, 2007; (iii) one with a term ending on December 31, 2008, and (iv) one with a term ending on December 31, 2009.

The Unless otherwise designated by the appointing authority, the Board shall determine which initial Appointed Directors and initial Elected Directors will serve in each staggered term where such designation is not clear from the nature of the appointment.

* * *SECTION 5. NOMINATIONS, ELECTIONS.

a. Appointed Directors. Four of the Directors of the Corporation shall be appointed to the Board by the Mayor, and three of the Directors of the Corporation shall be appointed to the Board by the President of City Council of the City )each, an "Appointed Director" and collectively, the "Appointed Directors". The Except where such designation is made by the appointing authority the Board shall notify the Mayor relevant appointing authority of the terms of service of each Appointed Director, as determined pursuant to Article IV, Section 2. At the end of an Appointed Director's term of service, the Mayor appointing authority shall either extend such Appointed Director's term or appoint a new Director, in the Mayor's appointing authority's sole discretion; provided that if the Mayor does not set within thirty days after the end of an Appointed Director's term of service, such Appointed Director shall remain on the board as an "Acting Director" (with all of the voting and other rights of a Director) until such time as the Mayor Appointing Authority extends his/her term or replaces him/her reappoints or replaces such director. At all times, each Appointed Director shall have a duty (not incosistent with his/her fiduciary duty) to report regularly on the activities of the Board to his/her appointing authority, including, at a minimum, a quarterly written report addressing the activities of WP with respect to bridging the digital divide.

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That's the total of the amendments put on the Wireless Ordinance, except for another small amendment that said that any vacancies in the Wireless Philadelphia Appointed Director part of the board would be filled by a new appointment by the Appointing Authority in question — the City Council Chairman or the Mayor, it seems. These provisions extend the appointed seats of the board by 3, raising the total board members to 11 the Mayor gets to appoint 4, who then elect another 4 members; the CIO is an ex oficio member.




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