Controller: Buyers available, other uses possible for city's mothballed WiFi equipment

City Controller Alan Butkovitz has found potential buyers for stacks of unused wireless network equipment collecting dust in a city warehouse.

City Controller Alan Butkovitz says he has found potential buyers for stacks of unused wireless network equipment collecting dust in a Philadelphia warehouse.

In a letter sent to Mayor Nutter on Monday, Butkovitz said several companies contacted his office with uses for the WiFi equipment that the Nutter administration had concluded was obsolete. One company valued the items at more than $300,000.

The inquiries and suggestions came after Butkovitz publicly asked in November that the administration determine the equipment's value and compatibility with current technology. The equipment has been sitting in storage since 2010.

"While your office stated that the equipment is obsolete, outdated, and has little book value, these companies have indicated there is still much worth in this equipment," Butkovitz said in his letter.

The equipment was part of a $2 million purchase the city made in 2010, with federal grant money, to launch a public-safety WiFi system. The plan was eventually put on hold.

Mark McDonald, Nutter's spokesman, said Monday that since last spring, when two developers approached the city about purchasing the equipment, the city has been trying to figure out the best use for the outdated items. The city is preparing a Request for Information (RFI) to gauge interest in the network and equipment.

"In a careful and systematic way, the administration is considering how best to deal with a network [which the city has used on some occasions] and the warehoused equipment in order to optimize the value for Philadelphians," McDonald said in an email.

Butkovitz previously suggested that the city use the equipment as a bargaining chip in reaching a new cable franchise agreement with Comcast Corp.

On Monday, the controller suggested other uses coming from his communication with technology companies. Butkovitz said the wireless routers and other tools could be used "to boost wireless capabilities for public transportation or improve Internet access within our schools." Or, Butkovitz wrote, the city could host a civic hackathon - an event in which computer programmers work on a software project - and allow the winner to decide what to do with the equipment.

Butkovitz, who has been at odds with Nutter for years, said he had "high hopes" that the Kenney administration will improve technology in the city and not let taxpayers' money to go to waste. Mayor-elect Jim Kenney was copied on the letter.

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