Wireless Internet access means more than being able to check your e-mail at Starbucks. Imagine if the town you live in transformed into one gigantic wireless hot spot overnight. You could feed parking meters with your MasterCard instead of hunting for quarters. Utility companies might read meters in real time and pass the savings on to customers. The next time you saw a pothole, you could instantly e-mail a camera phone photo to city hall.
Municipal wireless wouldn't just make life easier for citizens—it has the potential to save lives. Firefighters would be able to turn traffic lights green as they race to put out a blaze. Police could tap into a bank's surveillance cameras to get a head start on cracking a heist. And emergency responders would be able to communicate during a natural disaster or terrorist attack, a need that became obvious in the aftermath of 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina.
Municipal Wifi would benefit everyone, not just people who want to check their email on-the-go. But powerful corporations and government officials, guided by greed, are working hard to make sure it never happens.
- Verizon lobbyists helped draft Pennsylvania's anti-wireless statute in 2004. That law, in essence, gave Verizon veto power over state plans.
- Rep. Pete Sessions, R-Texas, a former SBC executive, introduced a bill in the House of Representatives earlier this year that would prohibit state and local governments from offering telecommunications services unless the area wasn't being served by a private company. He has between $500,000 and $1 million in SBC stock options.
- Sen. John Ensign, R-Nev., a member of the Republican High Tech Task Force, introduced the Broadband Investment and Consumer Choice Act. If passed, the bill would severely hamper cities' ability to build and manage wireless networks. Ensign has received more than $125,000 in political action committee donations from AT&T, Verizon, SBC, Sprint/Nextel, the National Cable and Telecommunications Association, Qualcomm, Qwest, Comcast, and Cingular.
This seems like a major distortion of Republican distaste for public services and another example of their growing support for federal regulation of state matters. While it is completely reasonable to prefer and promote private industry as the solution to community problems, it is obscene to promote anti-competitive, protectionist legislation on behalf of large communications companies. Is private industry so inept as to be unable to compete with municipal services?
I can't help but point out that we did something like this in 1984. To get cable going, Congress just about completely deregulated it and preempted the states and the local government from imposing significant regulation. We did indeed get deployment of systems, but at the cost of lousy quality of service, monopoly prices, and cable control of video content. It got so bad that Congress reregulated cable in 1992, over a presidential veto no less. But most of the damage was done and we have the cable monopoly system we know and love today.
The government should certainly not do what private enterprise can do better (e.g., make computers). And the government should not prohibit private enterprise from competing against it (e.g., FedEx). But the government also should not act as the cat’s paw for one of the most powerful industries in the nation by making competition against that industry illegal, whether from government or not.