Philadelphia City Councilwoman Cindy Bass called for hearings on a digital inclusion program aimed at giving more Philadelphians access to free wireless internet.

In a resolution, Bass called on council’s Committee on Parks, Recreation and Cultural Affairs to examine the use of city libraries to lend out wireless hotspot devices. A separate resolution called for the examination of a program to convert derelict phone booths into WiFi hubs.

“One of the things the councilwoman has been concerned about is digital inclusion – ensuring that people are plugged and have access to computers and wifi,” said Angela Bowie, Bass’ senior advisor. “These hearings would help flesh that out.”

Both programs would emulate similar efforts in other cities, Bowie said.

The library proposal is based on the “Hotspot Lending” program in Chester. The city, which has long grappled with deep poverty, currently loans out wireless hotspot devices at two library branches for up to two weeks.

Other hearings would focus on the feasibility of recreating New York City’s “LinkNYC” kiosks. That city converted thousands of old payphones into kiosks that offer WiFi, charging ports and free internet browsers, with costs covered by built-in advertising.

Since its introduction seven months, the novel program has proved popular, although loitering and abuse of the internet browser feature has spurred calls to modify the kiosks’ offerings.

Bass hopes the hearings could lead to similar programs in Philadelphia. However, her staffers were quick to distinguish between these programs and the Street administration’s disastrous Wireless Philadelphia program. An attempt to offer low-cost, municipal internet to all through a partnership with internet service provider Earthlink, the program fizzled for a variety of reasons.

“I don’t know if we ever want to get into municipal broadband again,” Bowie said, adding that the hearings would also investigate the status of thousands of WiFi routers that still adorn city lampposts.

 

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