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Wireless Philadelphia: An Interview with CEO Greg Goldman

December 22, 2006 By

Greg Goldman is first permanent CEO of Wireless Philadelphia, a nonprofit organization working to make the whole city wireless. Goldman has a background in the not-for-profit and for-profit sectors. He was most recently vice president of Korman Communities, a Philadelphia-based residential real-estate company. Prior to that, he was executive director of the Metropolitan AIDS Neighborhood Nutrition Alliance (MANNA), a local organization that delivers nourishment to people with HIV/AIDS. During his six-year tenure, that organization's service capacity and budget more than doubled, and its reach extended to include all 11 counties of the tri-state region. Digital Communities spoke with him about the challenges ahead for Wireless Philadelphia.

DC: What is the current status of Wireless Philadelphia?

Goldman: The initiative is running on parallel tracks. The first track is EarthLink and their installation of wireless routers in the proof-of-concept area -- that's a 15-square-mile rectangle of north Philadelphia. That's the installation and technical, mechanical track. The other track is Wireless Philadelphia as a nonprofit -- that's what I lead. We're trying to primarily develop programs in concert with the EarthLink build-out that can meet the digital inclusion mission and vision that have been set out by the mayor [John Street], Dianah Neff [former CIO] and others in the city, when Philadelphia decided to reach for this.

DC: When is the expected completion date for the first part of the project?

Goldman: Right now, we're looking at Dec. 1 for the installation to be completed. Then there will be a period of testing, primarily mechanical testing, according to the quality of the network's functioning, that needs to meet certain service-level agreements contained in the network agreement between Wireless Philadelphia and EarthLink. So December for the build-out, the switch-on, and then the testing period will take a small number of weeks after that. Once the tests are completed and accepted, then we begin the build-out of the network across the entire city.

DC: If the test area goes according to plan, when will the whole system be completed?

Goldman: The completion target date is end of October 2007. I think it's important people understand that it's not Star Trek. It's not something that fits into a 50-minute segment, and it's all done at the end. It's a complicated thing. I think that it's going to be a great way to deliver Internet service and make service accessible to every household in Philadelphia. It's going to drive prices down across the board for Internet access. It's going to make the entire city an outdoor hotspot for people who subscribe to the network. There are going to be 10 square miles scattered throughout the city where people will be able to get free access. So there are wonderful opportunities and elements associated with this, but it's also trucks, poles, lights, electrical hookups, PECO [Pennsylvania's largest utility and a division of Exelon Energy Delivery], and the streets department and permits.

DC: It's been challenging because to get the whole thing off the ground, there had to be this huge push in momentum and hype. And now the main question everybody is asking is --

Goldman: "Where is it already?" I think people need to understand, this is a big city. It's an old city; there are a lot of small streets; there are a lot of issues; there are old institutions. Just the simple relationship that needed to be negotiated with PECO. PECO delivers the electricity. PECO owned light poles, but the street lamps are owned by the city. It doesn't take a huge amount of imagination to understand that it's a complicated arrangement when you're talking about 4,500 street lamps that need to be identified, accounted for, located, permitted, etc. And that's not bad --

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