A growing number of cities plan to offer wireless Internet access as a municipal service. But as those plans spread, a backlash appears to be forming.
AT OUR "THINK TANK", WE "THINK" WHAT OUR FUNDERS TELL US TO "THINK"
More than 50 U.S. cities have set up or plan to install wireless broadband networks. Minneapolis is the latest to join the list. A number of think tanks oppose such moves. And some state lawmakers look to ban cities from going into the wireless business.
BECAUSE, SEE, WHY SHOULD TAXPAYERS PAY FOR SOMETHING WHEN BUSINESS CAN PROVIDE THE SAME OR LESS SERVICE FOR TRIPLE THE PRICE?
Critics say city wireless networks waste tax money. The goal of city networks -- low-cost broadband Internet access for all -- is noble. But business, not cities, should meet that goal, they say.
THAT'S RIGHT, WE SAID "LIBERTARIAN THINK TANK"
Cities are "proposing to cover large areas with wireless," said Steve Titch, a researcher for the Heartland Institute, a libertarian think tank. "But this is a very dubious proposition for cities."
SHUT UP, YOU NO-ACCOUNT HIPPIE
Advocates say city-owned wireless is needed, since private services don't provide adequate access at fair rates. And the backlash against municipal plans was spurred by corporate wireless providers, they say, not individuals. "This isn't a grass-roots backlash," said Ron Sege, chief executive of wireless gear firm Tropos Networks, which supports municipal wireless plans. "This is an organized campaign of disinformation."
ANY CAMPAIGN CONTRIBUTIONS TO SAID LAWMAKERS FROM TELECOMMUNICATIONS GIANTS IS PURELY COINCIDENTAL
Lawmakers in 10 states have bills to limit city-built wireless networks. That's created headaches for a number of cities. Take Philadelphia, which plans a $10 million citywide wireless network. Under a Pennsylvania law passed in December, cities that want to extend wireless Internet access to residents must first ask local service providers to do the job. If the provider can't offer such service in a year's time, the local government can do the job itself.
NONPROFIT? WHAT THE HELL IS THIS, RUSSIA?
Verizon Communications, the area's major telecom provider, initially opposed Philadelphia's plan. But it recently changed its stance, and the city is going forward with its wireless efforts. Philadelphia has set up a nonprofit company to get bids for building the network.
WE SIMPLY CANNOT CONCEIVE OF ANY SOCIAL NEED THAT IS NOT PROVIDED FOR BY PRIVATE INDUSTRY
Critics of city-run networks, such as the Heartland Institute, the New Millennium Research Council and various telecom lobbying groups, say the issue is one of ideology. They don't believe cities should provide services such as broadband. If businesses don't offer it, there's not enough demand, they say.
JUST BECAUSE WE'RE PART OF A P.R. COMPANY THAT MAKES MILLIONS OF DOLLARS OFF OF PRIVATE INTERNET PROVIDERS DOESN'T MEAN OUR POINT IS NOT VALID
Most of the groups have ties to the telecom field, others note, and that calls their judgment into question. The New Millennium Research Council is part of a public relations firm. The firm's clients include BellSouth, SBC Communications and Verizon.
WHEREAS WITH BUSINESSES, YOU NEVER END UP PAYING MORE THAN YOU PLANNED!
The main issue is that taxpayers are getting a raw deal, says Titch. Several city-run broadband projects in Iowa, California and Ohio have cost more than planned, he says. They've required ongoing taxpayer funding or have been sold off at a loss. "These networks are not slam-dunks," Titch said. "The upfront and ongoing costs are hard to predict."
WHEREAS WITH BUSINESSES, YOU NEVER GET STUCK WITH OUTDATED TECHNOLOGY!
Governments don't understand that technology can change, Titch says. So they may get stuck with a project that's already outmoded when it's completed.
IF THERE'S ENOUGH DEMAND, BUSINESS WILL FILL THE NEED, UNLESS YOU'RE IN SOME CRAPPY UNIMPORTANT PLACE LIKE KENTUCKY
Sege says there's a real need for government to push broadband on its own. About 22 million U.S. households don't have access to broadband service. Current providers won't service many of those areas because it's not economical. Owensboro, Ky., with a population of 54,000, faced that problem. Local provider BellSouth didn't have broadband widely available.
AMERICA'S HEARTLAND FALLS PREY TO PERILS OF SOCIALISM
The city's utility had extra space on its fiber telecom network. So it began connecting to customers via wireless back in 2001. The utility offers broadband to homes starting at $25 a month and business starting at $50. The utility is separate from the city, though. So it used its own money, not tax funds. The company is still paying off upfront costs, says Sonya Dixon, a spokeswoman for the provider, Owensboro Municipal Utilities. But ongoing expenses are covered. "We just wanted a low-cost way for businesses and residents to connect," Dixon said.
OH, SURE, THE CITY-RUN SERVICE IS MORE WIDELY AVAILABLE, CHEAPER, EASIER, AND MORE EFFICIENT, BUT...LOOK, JUST GIVE US SOME MONEY, DAMMIT
Similarly, Scottsburg, Ind., had limited broadband access. Verizon could get broadband to those only within one mile of its switch center, says Jim Binkley, manager at Citizens Communications, Scottsburg's city-run wireless service provider. The initial bids to wire Scottsburg for broadband were up to $10 million. Those bids involved digging up streets and burying cable. Using wireless, the project came in under $500,000, Binkley says. The city is still recouping upfront costs. But ongoing costs are covered, and demand for service has been better than expected.