Friday, August 05, 2005

Information just wants to be free! Free as the bird flies.

There has been much discussion of municipal free wi-fi over the last few weeks. I have been bored watching the discussion for free wi-fi in Philadelphia because I have yet to see an article that points out that downtown Wilmington, Delaware has had free wi-fi for almost two years. You have to scour the Wilimington city website for a press release on free wireless access and then finally this past May the local hip free paper(Spark) associated with the local crappy paper (The News Journal) had an article on it (no link for you, they made their archives pay for view; this is a subject for another time).

I wish I lived close enough to one of the access points to benefit from it, but I have seen people in both locations sitting and using their computers taking advantage of it. I think that access to the Internet is very empowering and is becoming more and more necessary as more government and private services are delivered via the internet and sometimes only through the internet. Not everyone can afford to DSL or cable modem access so I don't think it is unreasonable for a municipality to provide access if they choose to.

This is why I become incensed when I see bills to prevent municipalities from providing free wi-fi. The Preserving Innovation in Telecom Act of 2005 does has nothing to do with preserving innovation (I love the names of these bills, by the way). It has everything to do with making sure that U.S. Rep. Pete Sessions (R-Texas), who is a former employee of SBC, the phone company that serves the nation's Western and Southwestern states, pays back his former employer for their financial support. Also I might ask why the federal government would be involved in limiting a local governments rights when interstate commerce or civil rights are not involved. The idea is that free wi-fi is unfair competition for companies which must sell their services in the same market. I think that free wi-fi is public good that municipalities should provide if they want to and that the decision is local not federal.

On the other side us free wi-fi advocates have Community Broadband Act of 2005 co-sponsored by Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D- N.J.) and Sen. John McCain (R-Ari.). This bill's title is more reflective of its intent, which is to prevent the state or federal governments from preventing local municipalities from offering free internet access. The same objections about the federal government being involved apply here but this is better government in the sense of preserving a right rather than restricting one.

Chris Nolan writes an excellent article in eWeek presenting these two sides of the municipal wireless issue. I haven't seen an action alert from EFF on this issue but there is a short blurb that they have noticed it. Let's all keep informed on this issue and prevent Sessions from getting his way and preserving the rights of local governments.

1 comment:

Bex said...

Hey Bro,

I couldn't agree with you more. The Internet is the greatest innovation of our generation. If a city wants to provide FREE wi-fi to it's citizens, then why not? You make this point thoroughly, yet still providing the opposition’s POV.

N.B. You are still my favorite "word-smith"... Objective: length (and intelligence).