By Bobby Tanzilo Senior Editor/Writer Published Aug 03, 2005 at 5:41 AM

{image1} Back in April, the City of Philadelphia announced that it would expand its Wi-Fi network to cover the city's entire 135 square miles. The "Wireless Philadelphia" plan would sell computer users access for $20 a month, putting the city's program into direct competition with broadband services sold by commercial enterprises.

Of course, some in Milwaukee have wondered if something similar will happen here, where, at the moment, just two downtown parks are alive with bits and bytes at no cost to users.

"I guess the answer is we've been trying to figure out how to do it," says the city's Chief Information Officer Randy Gschwind. "It's in the two parks now, and we've been talking to Time Warner and SBC about doing it elsewhere."

Although rumors abound that Brady Street and the Historic Third Ward will become the next "hot zones," Gschwind says there is no specific plan on paper at the moment.

Part of the problem is funding and management of a program that is typically a commercial, rather than governmental, enterprise.

"The mayor doesn't think government should be competing with the private sector," says Gschwind, adding, "The problem is the city doesn't have the money to fund it, and we don't think the city should be funding it."

But don't think the city isn't working to make broadband more accessible and more useful.

Gschwind says that the police and fire departments are working to get set up to use broadband to transmit the piles of information currently sent over costly cellular service.

"We're trying to get public safety up and then expand it," says Gschwind. "As of now police are buying cellular service to send data."

In the meantime, the city is working with the Washington, DC-based non-profit One Economy to explore getting broadband access to economically depressed areas of Milwaukee.

According to Gschwind, the project -- which is currently in the planning stage -- will help Mayor Tom Barrett achieve one of his goals.

"The mayor's major objective is to get the benefits of broadband to low income populations."

But low income or otherwise, certainly the private sector will want to be involved in the broadbanding of Brew City.

"Obviously we're interested. We're always looking for opportunities to benefit our customers, and expanding our Wi-Fi footprint is one of the ways we do that," says Sarah Silva, a spokesperson for SBC, which already works with the city in bringing wi-fi to Cathedral Square and Pere Marquette Parks Downtown.

Although Silva won't comment on any potential discussions with the city, she doesn't think that cheap, widespread Wi-Fi will hurt SBC.

"It's complimentary to our DSL business, and there are still situations where both are relevant," says Silva. "We obviously have the information technology to be providing Internet services, and we believe our expertise lies in that. We really think this is part of our business that will continue to grow and develop."

(Note: designed the start page for the city's wireless network available at Cathedral and Pere Marquette Parks.)

Bobby Tanzilo Senior Editor/Writer

Born in Brooklyn, N.Y., where he lived until he was 17, Bobby received his BA-Mass Communications from UWM in 1989 and has lived in Walker's Point, Bay View, Enderis Park, South Milwaukee and on the East Side.

He has published three non-fiction books in Italy – including one about an event in Milwaukee history, which was published in the U.S. in autumn 2010. Four more books, all about Milwaukee, have been published by The History Press.

With his most recent band, The Yell Leaders, Bobby released four LPs and had a songs featured in episodes of TV's "Party of Five" and "Dawson's Creek," and films in Japan, South America and the U.S. The Yell Leaders were named the best unsigned band in their region by VH-1 as part of its Rock Across America 1998 Tour. Most recently, the band contributed tracks to a UK vinyl/CD tribute to the Redskins and collaborated on a track with Italian novelist Enrico Remmert.

He's produced three installments of the "OMCD" series of local music compilations for and in 2007 produced a CD of Italian music and poetry.

In 2005, he was awarded the City of Asti's (Italy) Journalism Prize for his work focusing on that area. He has also won awards from the Milwaukee Press Club.

He can be heard weekly on 88Nine Radio Milwaukee talking about his "Urban Spelunking" series of stories.