Philadelphia is going wireless. The present issues concerning the implementation of a city wide wireless system are debatable. However, they wane in comparison to the larger implications of a “Wireless Philadelphia,” which are both curious and frightening.

I think that this project fundamentally is an effort for the government to exert control. EarthLink, the ISP of choice because of its liberal views, will have a monopoly over Philadelphia, as Google will have over San Francisco (K.Rogerson). As Ken Rogerson pointed out, the network will be “maintained” by a non profit agency, also known as the government. This liaison brings up issues of privacy. It seems to me that one of the main incentives for the government to subsidize this project is a long term promise of information, as in the long run the internet will continue encompassing a larger part of our financial, personal, and communicative lives. This cause seemingly geared towards education and betterment of the community is actually an effort to put a leash on a universe that supports direct democracy over represented democracy.

Additionally, a city completely controlled by one ISP would allow this ISP to control the internet space of consumers, possibly leading to a more “geographically bordered” web experience, as Michael Geist alluded to in his article. Could this control be used to unify Philadelphia as community? I think it might allow for specified advertising and stricter access rules, but I do not see a common ISP as uniting a community, as the internet historically has broken the boundaries of location.

Now I would like to discuss the scary part of having a government controlled city-wide network. The first part isn’t so scary. This sort of system might easily transition into connecting a citizen to his or her school, the grocery store, the postal system, and other services of the town. A citizen may be registered on the wireless network as being a member of the town, and could apply this registration with the swipe of a card, such as driver’s license. With wireless across the city and possibly the nation, the nonprofit (government) might be able to monitor every citizen’s transaction, movement, and personal information. As this becomes more popular, perhaps having this valuable information on a card won’t be safe. The next suggestion will be to use retinal or fingerprinting technology, or just have an implanted chip. The government might utilize our fear against terrorism to convince us that as true American citizens we should have this done, so we can pick out “the other guys.” Parents might be told that with this technology they can keep track of their kids, or maybe completely eliminate the burden of paper money. Our every action might be under the quiet surveillance of the government, to be used for behavioral or spending analysis. Anyone that breaks any law in any way or has any information to hide now becomes revealed and easily locatable. Privacy is non existent. We might ultimately become prisoners without bars.

I don’t want to live in a world like that.

It is obvious that other ISP’s will lose some business due to this move. What are the implications of this? I think that other ISP’s are going to make private deals with businesses such as hotels and cafes and schools that would benefit from wireless. We will probably see Earthlink’s wireless blocked in some domains. Other ISP’s will be forced to provide either better wireless for a competitive price, or equal wireless for a lower price. This healthy competition would benefit Philadelphia businesses as they would save money, but how does this benefit the citizens? It is doubtful that the workers of these businesses will see any of the returns from this deal. Therefore, the long run implications are to benefit stockholders and not citizens.

I am curious about the distinction between communication via a cell phone and online communication technology, such as iphone that offers voice over IP ( I think the two might become one and the same. The internet will control all aspects of our daily lives and absorb the phone and telephone industry, and possibly areas of government, such as with the patent office, which we discussed last week.

i do worry about EarthLink having total control, and I wonder about true incentives behind this move. Clearly EarthLink is being supported by the government, and it is worrisome that once they have this control they will assert their power.

I wonder how much a universal wireless network can benefit a city like Philadelphia. Through I discovered that there are seventeen Starbucks Coffee shops with wireless in downtown Philadelphia alone. I know that many hotels and common social spots offer wireless as well. The point is that Philadelphia is already very wireless. In a big city like Philadelphia I maintain my view that the money used for this project could be better spent on the school systems. It seems to me that having internet access is useless if individuals do not have computers or a good education.

Suggested Citation:
Sochat, Vanessa. "A wireless city? Where's my tracking chip?." @vsoch (blog), 11 May 2007, (accessed 16 Apr 24).