Democracy & Technology Blog Philly update

Philadelphia’s city-run Wi-Fi project seems to be in trouble before it begins. Mike Langberg of the San Jose Mercury News says the city is realizing initial cost projections were way too low and expections were way too high. I said a year ago the $10 million cost figure was “implausible” and that the number of required network nodes would explode from the original projection of 1,000. PFF also questioned Philly’s plan and recaps the story here.

I may have been wrong, however, to suggest last year that Philly’s project wouldn’t fail: “I doubt any municipal wireless project has failed, or ever will,” I wrote. “Have you ever heard of a government program that failed? This is the fundamental failure of non-market activities: the inability to fail. Because you have unlimited inputs and unmeasurable outputs, and because cost and value are unknown and profits and losses are not internalized, there is no feedback, there is no learning curve, there is no signal to stop.”

Anyway, maybe I was too pessimistic, and maybe Philly pols have come to their senses. But don’t count on it.

-Bret Swanson

Bret Swanson

Bret Swanson is a Senior Fellow at Seattle's Discovery Institute, where he researches technology and economics and contributes to the Disco-Tech blog. He is currently writing a book on the abundance of the world economy, focusing on the Chinese boom and developing a new concept linking economics and information theory. Swanson writes frequently for the editorial page of The Wall Street Journal on topics ranging from broadband communications to monetary policy.