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Wireless Networking Networking United States Hardware

Free Wi-Fi Threatened? 586

Posted by CowboyNeal
from the in-texas-and-pa dept.
jasonmicron writes "The Houston Chronicle is reporting that if certain state officials have their way, cities in the state of Texas will no longer be able to offer free WiFi to their citizens. This could set a dangerous precedent if passed, as broadband providers could start lobbying officials in the other 49 states to ban free WiFi as well. According to the article, Pennsylvania has already fallen victim to such a law but it excluded Philedelphia due to the city's 'existing efforts.'"
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Free Wi-Fi Threatened?

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday March 03, 2005 @11:27PM (#11841036)
    ... from my apartment balcony. About 1/3 of those are open (no WEP or WAP).

    Tell me again why the government needs to be able to get into the free-WiFi business.
    • by ackthpt (218170) * on Thursday March 03, 2005 @11:29PM (#11841054) Homepage Journal
      Tell me again why the government needs to be able to get into the free-WiFi business.

      Maybe when it's all locked up in private hands you'll see rates more akin to those of satellite or cable TV.

      Why should taxpayers fund Public Libraries when there's perfectly good bookstores around to sell them books and magazines, eh?

      • Why should taxpayers fund Public Libraries when there's perfectly good bookstores around to sell them books and magazines, eh?

        I asked my local Barnes & Noble for the annual Connecticut Legislative Record, an issue of Consumer Reports from five years ago, volume 'S' of an encyclopedia, and the one-time printing of a book on the history of my town, but they didn't have any of those. They wouldn't let me borrow their videos, either.

        I see your point, but in this particular case, the bandwidth is a commodi

        • I see your point, but in this particular case, the bandwidth is a commodity, where the library and the book store aren't offering identical products/services.

          Where current periodicals, the day's newspapers and recently published books are concerned they are, as the public library is reducing revenues of the sellers. Historical materials is a fair point, but not what I was refering to. When Harry Potter 6 comes out there will probably be a dozen copies at the local library the next day.

          But at the same t

          • by Qzukk (229616) on Friday March 04, 2005 @12:37AM (#11841527) Journal
            Ok, don't want to pay taxes, that's peachy.

            The problem is that a majority of the services bought by tax money goes out to benefit everyone. Local fire department? Even if your house never catches on fire, good coverage will make your insurance premiums lower. Schools? Even if you're an old fogey with no kids, educated children are less likely to become ruffians who you have to chase off your yard with a cane. Medical care? Even if you're never sick, preventative health care would reduce the number of days of work lost to sick days, plus contain outbreaks of infectious disease before it becomes widespread (too bad America doesn't buy into this). Water? Electricity? Sewage? At one time the only effective way to get pipes and wires to every person in the city was for the government to do it itself, and in doing so it modernized life for everyone.

            Wireless is a bit harder to justify as a good-for-everyone deal. But what if a city decided to set up wireless points and ask the users to pay for it rather than doing it with their taxes? This law (from the first time this dupe was posted) [slashdot.org] would still make it illegal, because the purpose of the law isn't to say what cities should or should not do with tax money, its to make sure that people don't get wireless service until one of the Big Telecom companies deigns to provide the service in a suitably overcharged and crippled format.
            • by shutdown -p now (807394) on Friday March 04, 2005 @02:36AM (#11842038) Journal
              If a local community, through their elected representatives, decided that free WiFi is a "common good" service (and isn't it?), I don't see any reason why it shouldn't be implemented, nor why should there be any laws prohibiting it. If someone isn't willing to waste their tax money on that, they can move to a different place.
            • Yes, and fire departments used to be private operations.
        • by Anonymous Coward
          "Why aren't the ISPs offering wireless access?" Something's terribly wrong when the government is on the cutting edge of technology.

          Fred,

          My network provides MPLS engineered, 100 Mbps capacity wireless to nine counties in a "flyover" red state. My communities served are as rural as they get. My service runs $20 to $40 per month, and smokes the tired old DSL and cable networks. In most communities, I have between 12% and 33% of households. My competition believes a fractional T1 512 Kbps or 768 Kbps is suf
          • Yes, because we all know that private companies are always the greatest for competence and customer service. In fact, the last three ISP's I've dealt with...

            Wait...had morons who wouldn't know a processor from a hard smack across the forehead. And when I've worked on government accounts to service datacenter UPS's, the admins there are generally smarter and better then the equivalent corporate ones.

            As to "forcing" you to buy something? Parent indicated a CITIZEN REFERENDUM OR INITIATIVE putting the taxes for this service to a popular vote. If people don't want it, it'll fail overwhelmingly and no one will be "forced" into anything. And if it passes, and the government service sucks as badly as you think it will, private companies will come along and offer better service and make tons of money. Of course, if the government service is as good as promised, problem solved.

            You so-called "lovers of the free market" are the ones who tell us that it's OUR problem to figure out how to get health insurance when it's prohibitively expensive, and OUR problem to get a job. Well great, fine. Then it's the CORPORATION'S problem to figure out how to break into a government's market area, and if they can't, well, there's the free market, and some have an advantage where some don't!

            Stereotypes and joking aside, not all government employees are idiots, and CERTAINLY not all corporate employees have two braincells to clack together.

            And before you start in-I'm a private sector employee myself.

        • by commodoresloat (172735) on Friday March 04, 2005 @02:26AM (#11842008)
          I don't agree that the government should be using their disposition (and probably deep municipal bandwidth discounts) to remove potential income from private industry.

          "Remove potential income"? Do you work for the RIAA? Potential income can't be "removed" because it doesn't exist. And there's not a single thing in the world the government (or anyone) could do that could not be defined by someone else as "removing" their potential income.

          How's this: I don't agree with the idea that private industry should be using its disposition (and probably deep tax breaks and overpriced contracts with government organizations) to remove potential services from the public. Now do you see what's wrong with your statement?



        • I don't agree that the government should be using their disposition (and probably deep municipal bandwidth discounts) to remove potential income from private industry.

          By this rationale (and with very little exaggeration on my part), the govt. should stop:
          1. Providing water utilities (treads on Ozarka's profits).
          2. Providing public swimming pools (treads on Splash Town USA attendance)
          3. Providing mail service (cuts into FedEx and UPS profits).
          4. Protecting us with police officers (reduces profit earned by priv
        • Something's terribly wrong when the government is on the cutting edge of technology.

          This is something that's been terribly wrong for a long time.

          Note that the Internet (nee ARPAnet) was designed and built with about 99% funding from the US government. ARPA, the Advanced Research Projects Agency, has always been an arm of the US Army (and it's now DARPA, since they added "Defense" to the name). They funded it because private industry was unwilling or unable to develop the sort of communication system th
        • I don't agree that the government should be using their disposition (and probably deep municipal bandwidth discounts) to remove potential income from private industry.

          Air is free... But boy could some company make a killing on it. Just think of all the "potential income" that's being lost by allowing people to breathe for free.
    • So they can create an industry making people pay for something that used to be free, of course! If you disagree, you're o better than those filthy environmentalists at the UN trying to ruin our economy!

      In all seriousness though, that is the law's intention, though I doubt it extends to personal access points, just publicly funded ones.
    • no WEP or WAP
      I'm not very surprised to see that the access points don't implement the Wireless Access Protocol, which is used for cell phones.

      It may be more surprising that they haven't activated Wi-fi Protected Access, or WPA, however. Definitely more related to WEP, either way. ;-)

    • Come to any small area, and you will understand why. There are many outback type areas throughout colorado that have little to no service of high-speed bandwidth. Personally, I think that things are screwy only because the local gov. have granted monopolies (tel/cable). They need to quit granting these or go for limited time or type.
  • Maybe not so bad? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday March 03, 2005 @11:29PM (#11841050)
    The way I see it is, this is protection from government controlled internet. Not only would I fear things like the Patriot Act finding its way on to the backbone of the internet, but state controlled free internet would kill any competition. (Why pay when its free?) Granted there's little competition now days, but Govt control would just make it worse. We need to look toward ways of promoting Wi-Fi/Internet competition in the private sector. As long as this doesn't preclude small communities from offering Wi-Fi, I have no problems...
  • This seems silly (Score:5, Insightful)

    by DumbWhiteGuy777 (654327) on Thursday March 03, 2005 @11:29PM (#11841053)
    Banning of free Wi-Fi? What kind of country do we live in that would BAN free stuff?

    I think if this passes, the terrorists have really won.
    • The kind that realizes that free services provided by the government are not actually 'free'.
    • by wmshub (25291) on Thursday March 03, 2005 @11:34PM (#11841091) Homepage Journal
      The kind of country where companies realize, if free stuff is banned, then people will have to pay for it instead.

      Heck, if a company can write the laws to force people to buy your product, then it sounds like a pretty good plan. Almost (but not quite) makes you want to help out Ralph Nader, doesn't it?
      • yeah, instead of haveing evil companys make us pay for something if we want it... lets have the government give it to us for "free" with free meaning "if you don't help pay we will send men with guns to come put you in jail"
        • by Overzeetop (214511)
          Except you've already paid for most of the infrastructure (via the existing network the government uses). This law just makes sure that you won't have to pay an extra $1 in taxes because the telecom who own the politicians plans on billing you $30/mo for the same service, and a dollar seems like unfair competition to them.

          Interestingly, my local government offers trash service for about $12/mo. Can I decline? Actually, I think I can. But I'll have to pay a private company $50/mo for service or use the lo
    • by wud (709053)
      the same kind of country that will let you fight and die at 18, but wont let you drink till 21.
    • Re:This seems silly (Score:2, Informative)

      by Seumas (6865)
      The kind where anyone who performs music or plays for free is unfairly competing with commercial entertainment.
    • "What kind of country do we live in that would BAN free stuff?"

      Because that is a facile oversimplification. They're not banning free stuff. They're banning stuff that taxpayers would be forced to pay whether they used it or not.

      I presume that any person could still buy wi-fi hotspots with his own dime and offer them to his fellow citizens for free.
    • The same country that is leading the way in the privatisation of critical services like water and electricity.

      Essentially, private companies are abusing the system through bribery, not only to hold onto existing markets, but to create, from nowhere, markets and demand that otherwise would never have existed.
  • I don't think so (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Stevyn (691306) on Thursday March 03, 2005 @11:30PM (#11841060)
    "Several telecommunications companies, which provide both dial-up Internet access as well as faster broadband connections through cable and DSL lines, say they were not involved in writing the bill."

    I think they're lying. Plain and simple.

    "That's not to say they disagree with the wireless provision. SBC Communications, which has more DSL customers in the nation than any other provider, said cities should be allowed to offer wireless Internet access in public places, such as parks and libraries. But they should not directly compete with private enterprises by providing services to residents and businesses, said company spokesman Gene Acuña.

    "If they do, then we would have some real concerns," he said."

    Such as what? If the town/city screws it up then people can purchase their own service. It should be up to the taxpayers to decide if they want this or not. And if you're a tax payer who does not want your money wasted on this, then fight it in your city.
    • by Erwos (553607) on Thursday March 03, 2005 @11:42PM (#11841152)
      "Such as what? If the town/city screws it up then people can purchase their own service. It should be up to the taxpayers to decide if they want this or not. And if you're a tax payer who does not want your money wasted on this, then fight it in your city."

      The problem is that the city can bury it in other taxes. You never actually know the "cost" of something because you're not paying on an individual basis. There is real incentive to make something efficient from a business standpoint, because your customers see the real cost of the service in their bill every month.

      Taxes, on the other hand, are not so clear cut. Your "free" WiFi might actually be costing a hundred bucks a month per person, more than the, say, $60 a commercial provider might charge, but since it's in taxes, you never actually know this. And, things will never get better, since commercial providers can't compete against "free". Everyone loses.

      I believe the unstated debate on this issue is whether Internet access should be considered a utility along the lines of power and water, and, if it is, is WiFi access a necessary utility? It wouldn't surprise me that the technocratic elite of Slashdot (and that's what we are, honestly) wouldn't think twice about declaring it a utility, but for the average person, I'm not sure it's so clear cut.

      I believe a good compromise (if we were to deem this a utility) would be for the city to contract out the service to a commercial provider. Take bids, see who'll do it for the lowest price. Then, every four years or so, the contract is up, and the bidding starts again. This helps prevent government waste, and harnesses the efficieny of a private corporation (which, naturally, wants to be profitable).

      If the lowest bid seems too high, this is a signal that the service is _not_ worth providing! Either the government reasses the value of said service (and then pays the higher amount), or they realize, quite simply, that it is not an efficient, necessary thing to do at this time.

      -Erwos
      • by Stevyn (691306) on Thursday March 03, 2005 @11:49PM (#11841215)
        I agree with you. Cities can be very wasteful. But the debate here is not if a city should decide whether or not to offer wifi paid by the taxpayers, it's if the government has the right to ban it altogether.

        If people in my town wanted this and we voted on it, then that would one thing. But if people in my town wanted it and the council said "I'm sorry, you don't have the right to vote on it" then that's a whole different story.

        I believe that's the issue here.
        • Unitary government (Score:2, Informative)

          by XanC (644172)
          All government entities within a state exist at the pleasure of that state government. If the state decides that some of its people need protection against tyranny of the majority in a city, it's perfectly okay for it to step in and say no.

          If your town wants to install WiFi, have the people interested form a co-op, and do it! No need to force other people to pay.

      • Are you nuts? This an untapped giant industry in the making. Only by eliminating the "free" providers of wireless access can this entirely new industry get started. Think of the enormous number of jobs involved here. A WHOLE NEW INDUSTRY. Were' talking an annual industry revenue in the billions of dollars. It all starts here. Eliminate the free providers. Take the 'open' tag off this stuff. ----Ofcourse, I'm speaking economically. If I had my way, it would be free all the time.
      • Re:I don't think so (Score:4, Interesting)

        by demachina (71715) on Friday March 04, 2005 @02:42AM (#11842060)
        "There is real incentive to make something efficient from a business standpoint, because your customers see the real cost of the service in their bill every month."

        Yeah right, tell me another one. You obviously don't pay a cable or satellite TV bill every month for a basic package. In case you haven't noticed they are routinely jacking up rates faster than inflation [broadcastengineering.com] by a substantial amount, and the quality of the channels and programming they provide is either staying the same or getting worse. They claim they add more channel but neglect to point out most of the channels they add are garbage.

        Since 1996 when rates were deregulated they've gone up 50%, three times inflation, 150 channels and there is still nothing on worth watching most of the time.

        OK so you are paying maybe $40 a month for this fine service. We are talking basic cable. Pretty much every channel you get on basic is laden with commercials so you get to pay twice, both for the service and you still have to watch programs laden with ads.

        Ever watch TV late in the evening or early morning. Nearly every channel is running infomericals all night not to mention most packages carry a half dozen shopping channels which are basicly infomercials 24x7.

        You want efficient cable/satellite then make them sell you each channel individually and if you don't want 3/4 of the channels they provide you pay 1/4 of the price you do now. John McCain [broadcastengineering.com] among others have tried to push this in congress and the TV/Satellite companies kill it in short order.

        "but since it's in taxes, you never actually know this"

        Bah again. Any city worth a plug nickel will have the costs of the service broken out in black and white in its budget. Wouldn't take much more for them to provide usage statistics on numbers of users and bandwidth used.

        "And, things will never get better, since commercial providers can't compete against "free". Everyone loses."

        Well actually no. The only losers are private companies that want to rake in a lot of money on internet service. Internet access IS a lot more like essential infrastructure today. Any kid in school needs it for research and if they don't have it at home they are forced to libraries or to do without. Most cities do provide internet service through libraries at taxpayer expense already, you are just saving people from having to go to the library and queue up to get it, assuming you can swing a second hand computer.

        If you make each household pay monthly the affluent get it, the poor don't and you just reinforce the digital divide. If it is done through taxes everyone has equal access.

        Wireless access points are cheap, there is so much dark fiber sitting around bandwidth is also cheap. Its key you don't have to run something in to every home. Just setup evenly spaced access points. It is totally rationale and efficient for cities to provide this as a public service.

        Cable and DSL will never be able to compete against wireless, free or not, so they have a lot to fear. They have to run copper or fiber in to every home, send crews around to hook, unhook and repair every home. They have to spend a small fortune mailing out bills, cashing checks and dealing with deadbeats. The can't beat public wireless on efficiency, how its paid for.
  • 'Free' Wifi? (Score:5, Informative)

    by Will_Malverson (105796) on Thursday March 03, 2005 @11:32PM (#11841076) Journal
    Keep in mind, that unless the city employees who administer the network do so for free, Linksys, Cisco, or whoever provides the hardware does so for free, and the upstream provider doesn't charge for bandwidth, this isn't "free" Wi-Fi, but instead subsidized, socialized Wi-Fi.

    According to http://www.wifimaps.com/ [wifimaps.com], there is only one wireless network within half a mile of my house, despite the fact that hundreds of people live in that area.

    Why should the vast majority of the population subsidize the small percentage of people who are interested in this stuff? It's not like Internet connectivity is *that* expensive.

    Besides, do you really want to get your Internet connectivity from your local government?
    • Wonderful... (Score:3, Insightful)

      by 6169 (318124)
      Why should the vast majority of the population subsidize the small percentage of people who are interested in this stuff? It's not like Internet connectivity is *that* expensive.

      This is why government-regulated industries and socialist ideas exist in the first place: Because some people as a group are willing to provide subsidized {access to new technology, farm aid, health care, social security} to those who are not able to afford it, in hopes that their efforts will eventually give economic stability t
      • If you can't afford to eat, then clearly you can't even begin to worry about finding a job.
        And here I was thinking that the reason people went out to work in the first place was so that they and their families could eat. Silly me.
  • I think (Score:5, Interesting)

    by elid (672471) <eli DOT ipod AT gmail DOT com> on Thursday March 03, 2005 @11:32PM (#11841079)
    I think we should be asking ourselves whether public wifi is a good idea, if competition is available (not always the case, but is true in big cities like Philadelphia). I mean, how reliable would such a service be? How fast? Secure? And the funding has to come from somewhere....
  • by subterranean (22331) on Thursday March 03, 2005 @11:34PM (#11841092) Homepage
    "Technology for All provides free computers to high school students who take a computer course, but is looking for a sponsor to help provide $125 modems that plug into computers and capture the wireless signal."

    I too am searching for a sponsor to give me $125 for $50 wireless network cards.
  • Un-American (Score:3, Funny)

    by emjoi_gently (812227) on Thursday March 03, 2005 @11:35PM (#11841094)
    Free stuff, such as Open Source software, stifles commerce. It's Un-American.
    Governments giving free stuff to people is doubley Un-American.
  • Note how many of the first comments in this thread are all Anonymous Cowards and are all anti-municipal WIFI. The Telcos have millions to spend on PR to kill muni wifi. Looks like some of those millions is going to the Internet.

    Muni WiFi ALL THE WAY!!

    As soon as my metro area goes muni wifi, I am gonna cut off my DSL AND my landline. Buh-Bye Big Telco....

  • by tgtanman (728257) on Thursday March 03, 2005 @11:37PM (#11841112)
    http://www.savemuniwireless.org/ [savemuniwireless.org] has information on how to contact your Texas legislator and more information on HB 789
  • by SEWilco (27983) on Thursday March 03, 2005 @11:38PM (#11841120) Journal
    Sarge says we're war-driving today. Get some extra ammo and aluminum foil.
  • by Deinesh (770292) on Thursday March 03, 2005 @11:39PM (#11841127)
    >>Several telecommunications companies, which provide both dial-up Internet access as well as faster broadband connections through cable and DSL lines, say they were not involved in writing the bill.

    I have lived in Texas and let me tell you this, Special interests RULE the legislature in Texas. The Texas legislature is limited by its constitution to meet for only 140 days every TWO years. The legislators are overloaded with work they HAVE to do to keep the state running. Because of that they rely on special interests very heavily.

    In addition to that, campaign finance laws in Texas are virtually non-existant. There are no limits on contributions by citizens. My former representative bought a Ford Explorer with the leftovers of his campaign war-chest and got away with it.
  • Free? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Rombuu (22914)
    Like they aren't going to use tax money for it?
  • Nothing is free (Score:5, Insightful)

    by CharlieHedlin (102121) on Thursday March 03, 2005 @11:40PM (#11841141)
    Our taxes will pay for it instead of the users. Considering only people with enough money to buy a computer really benifet, it isn't fair to use everyones taxes.

    Not to mention that a lot of WiFi's popularity has been helped by commercial hot spots. What incentive do companies have if they know the government will put them out of business?

    Disclaimer: I own pre ipo stock at a major hot spot provider.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    The PA law might be influenced a little bit by the "good-old-boys" network (doesn't happen in government, I know...). Governor Ed Rendell was once Philadelphia's mayor. From what I understand, Verizon played a significant role in writing the bill... (lobbying doesn't happen in government either, right?)
  • Funny (Score:5, Insightful)

    by WindBourne (631190) on Thursday March 03, 2005 @11:43PM (#11841166) Journal
    These same companies that are fighting against cities offering Wifi, are the same ones that wish to block VOIP and any other service that they wish to sell. In fact, I am guessing that soon, they will start to block downloaded music and video and will offer a music/video service of their own.
  • by Etherwalk (681268) on Thursday March 03, 2005 @11:43PM (#11841176)
    It seems that there are three obvious sides here-

    1) WiFi/Net access is a luxury. It is not a basic utility and should not be considered one. The availability of massive quantities of information to the public might be in the general interest, but they can go to a library.

    2) Net access is becoming a utility. It is as necessary to the everyday life of the average american as running water and electricity. Remember, we started out without them. At what point does Net Access work that way? We're not quite at that debate yet. We probably won't be there for a while, although maybe it'll be considered if and when somebody establishes a monopoly.

    3) Incentive. Are communities providing free wifi to encourage businesses to move in/stay local? This seems the best reason to do it. Although it might be better addressed by providing a tax incentive to businesses to provide indoor coverage than by a government-controlled system that's going to be inefficiently managed. [As a side-note, are these systems going to remain as open as they are after the first few major hacks from such points? What about liability for the Wireless Access provider? Does he have any responsibility to be sure his hardware isn't being used for malicious purposes, or is it like a payphone in the back of your business?]

    Mmmm... just a few uninformed thoughts.
  • The Reason Being... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Trip Ericson (864747) on Thursday March 03, 2005 @11:52PM (#11841239) Homepage
    There are places in the US where broadband is not available. *A collective gasp sucks the air out of the room* That's right, those places exist. For example, I live in the big empty spot in Virginia west of Richmond, east of Lynchburg, and Northwest of South Hill. There's no service here. The only hope of service is if the local public school system can get permission to put up a wireless network. (Which they're trying to do) The big corporations do not think it's profitable to wire the area, which is probably true. Heck, there's STILL no cable here; if you want TV, enjoy satellite or an antenna. It's so bad, Verizon won't even update the phone lines enough for me to dial in to any service provider at a speed higher than 26.4k. You read that right. And that, my friends, is why government should be allowed to provide internet. - Trip
    • by gkuz (706134)
      Sorry, I missed the part where somebody held a gun to your head and forced you to live there. That's like buying an apartment in NYC and then complaining that it's noisy and crowded. If you don't like it that much, move.
    • The other replies to parent are a bit harsh, but essentially there are options for getting and sharing broadband. Broadband does not mean just ADSL or Cable. There's T1/DS1 ($ not that bad through Speakeasy and others), 144Kbps IDSL (longer distance than SDSL or ADSL), and 128Kbps ISDN (which I easily got at 30k feet from switch - should go much further). You can recoup circuit costs by WiFi sharing in your neighborhood if your ISP allows it (Speakeasy does). See my posting history for another comment on
    • It's so bad, Verizon won't even update the phone lines enough for me to dial in to any service provider at a speed higher than 26.4k. You read that right. And that, my friends, is why government should be allowed to provide internet.

      Your argument doesn't follow at all! The government is the one that has forced Telcos to install phone lines in areas like yours, and funded it by taxing those of us who wisely choose to live near enough other people, where it is economical to provide services.
  • 1. I don't want local government providing free wifi on the simple principle that it's not a proper function of government. Government exists only to provide services that cannot be provided by the free market, especially those directly related to government's protective function (i.e., it's legal monopoly on the use of force, namely police, courts, and national defense) to prevent force being used against it's citizens. There's ample evidence that private firms can provide WiFi.

    2. That said, I am opposed to this law because it violates the principles of federalism and subsidiarity, i.e., power should devolve to the lowest level of government capable of handling the problem. Just as the federal government should enact no laws or programs capable of being taken care of by state governments (see also the Tenth Amendment), state governments should make no law limiting the range of freedom of local governments to govern themselves (naturally, this is as long as laws passed by such local governments do not infringe upon the guaranteed rights of it's citizens).

    Thus while I think it's a bad idea for local governments to pay for free WiFi access, it's a worse idea for the state government to be sticking it's nose unnecessarily into local affairs.

    • Good points. I disagree with point 1, because I feel that there are some uses for wifi that are appropriate for a town government:
      *wifi access in libraries
      *wifi access blanketing the town for the police and rescue services

      It could be that the cheapest way a city can get a wifi network set up for their police and ambulance services is to build it themselves. (Private systems are not *always* cheaper.) Once the system is in place, would it not make sense to allow the citizens who paid for it an opportunit
    • I don't want local government providing free wifi on the simple principle that it's not a proper function of government. Government exists only to provide services that cannot be provided by the free market, especially those directly related to government's protective function (i.e., it's legal monopoly on the use of force, namely police, courts, and national defense) to prevent force being used against it's citizens. There's ample evidence that private firms can provide WiFi.

      mmm, you mean like EDUCATION ?

  • Consider this... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by code65536 (302481) on Thursday March 03, 2005 @11:53PM (#11841248) Homepage Journal
    1/ Quality of service. Government involvement doesn't stamp out competition. It could spur private enterprises to provide better, faster, stabler, less conjested service. It could potentially mean *more* competition.

    2/ This is a public good. Many hard-core libertarians would disagree with money spent on public goods, and that's really just a matter of philosophy. But given the precedents of public parks (why build public parks when you could have Green Grass Enterprises provide parks and charge the little kids money each time they want to go down a slide?), public libraries (why have libraries when you can be overcharged by Borders?), a military (why have government build and own the nukes that protected us from the USSR and not NukeUSA Inc.?), etc., what is wrong with public Internet? Oh, right, Internet is more lucrative than the park business. Anyway, enough sarcasm. The point is, the precedent is set. Sometimes the line between special interests and genuine public goods can be blurry, but in this case, I'd definitely call it a public good, and by precedent, it should be fine!

    3/ A rising tide raises all ships. Sometimes, social engineering is a good thing. Seeing as how much a paradigm the Internet is, getting people access to it can help change the nature of society. By the way, most economists (even conservative ones) consider education and information to be public goods.
  • by Statecraftsman (718862) on Friday March 04, 2005 @12:09AM (#11841350) Homepage
    for many small cities and towns to go out on a limb and offer free wifi. Even if it does cost something in taxes, it offers huge benefits in terms of quality of life and attracting smart people and businesses.

    I look forward to a time when you can go to small towns across the country and see them revitalized by being well connected. This could be the solution to the last mile problem that the major telecom players are unwilling to solve.

    Their cost/benefit analysis just doesn't have the community's interest at heart to the same degree that a mayor or city council will. This sort of legislation must be seen for the defensive maneuver it is.

  • WTF? (Score:2, Interesting)

    Here's the scoop: cities are free to give corporations massive tax breaks lasting decades to lure businesses and jobs, but they aren't supposed to be free to give wireless access to the people which can also make a city attractive to corporations?

    It's always the bigger players that have the advantage. In this case, it's large phone companies that can write the laws to their benefit. Nobody who is in favor of free wifi is powerful enough to oppose them.

    Corporations pull the strings, and government works at
  • Buggy Whip Lobby (Score:5, Insightful)

    by madstork2000 (143169) * on Friday March 04, 2005 @12:11AM (#11841363) Homepage
    Dear duly elected state stenator,

    I represent the buggy whip industry, and we would like to join the efforts against municipalities who are offering useful public services.

    While we no longer pack the lobbying punch we did 100 years ago, we feel its important to make a stand here and now. It is not the cities place to provide mass public transportation on its roads. God created the horse to transport man. He gave us whips to get those horses moving.

    Buses are bad, so are cars. Horses eat grass, and could be feed on our lawn clippings further protecting the environment. Even horse's shit can be useful in fertilizing and for electrical generation, Clearly Municipal governments missed the boat 100 years ago in funding such follies as public roads, and mass transit systems.

    As a God fearing nation of people we implore our leaders to stop trying to mess with Gods plan, and threaten wholesome established industries. Much like our own buggy whip industry once was; simply because technology has made it economically feasible to provide such services.

    Why should tax payers pay for things they might actually use more than say a library or more often than a park? To hell with the people who would benifit from those services, you need thriving industry lobbying dollars. Unfortunately at the time our industry did not react quickly enough, and we are but a footnote in history. Don't let that happen to what's left of the Bells.

    Communications and access to information is a priviledge and should only be readily accessible to those who can afford it, and those willing to pay for it. Information and the internet most certainly are different than other services traditionally provided by local governments, like libraries.

    We the buggy whip industry clearly messed up a 100 years ago. It is going to take a lot of effort to reverse the clear damage done to our industry by the municipalities senseless actions.

    But here ans now we can help prevent a another senseless travesty by feverently supporting the telecommunications industry's oppisition to the communistic cesspools of municiple wifi Internet access.

    Infact, I hear you can even get pornography, and other naughty things, for free on the Internet. I heard that terrorists might even use tit to communicate.

    Surely a God fearing, senator representing good wholesome people in the worlds greatest democracy, will not allow these back water heathanistic towns to undermine the very fabric of our country.

    Municipal wifi will taking jobs away for hard working telecommunications workers who often risk their lives high atop poles stringing cable for one of the great and lasting american icons. Municipal wifi will encourage people to get online and have access to dangerous information, and maybe even porn.
    Municipal wifi is communism, it might even be an even more communistic than the GPL, and free software. (Those Linux zealots will undoubtably further undermine the economicy if allowed to leverage their radical beliefs to the masses with free Internet.)

    For Gods ske this is AMERICA, we cannot block the internet liek CHINA and get a way with it. We need to limit the free flow of information more covertly. We have already made broadband Internet dangerously low priced. Higher government cannot afford to let everyone have access to the knowledge and power of the Internet. If that happens then things like Internet voting could become a realistic. Vote turnout would sore, and fine Senetors might become obsolete like buggy whips.

    We the buggy whip industry implore you to NOT let our fate happen NEEDLESSLY AGAIN.

  • by Fencepost (107992) on Friday March 04, 2005 @12:14AM (#11841379) Journal
    Illinois Senate bill 0499 [ilga.gov] was introduced in late February with an amendment by State Senator Rauschenberger that would do similar things.

    I sent letters to my state senator and representative encouraging them to vote against it when and if the opportunity came up, and I fully encourage any other Illinois residents to do the same. If you're not sure who your state senator and representative are, you can find out at Project Vote Smart [vote-smart.org] by entering your 9-digit ZIP code. If your state senator is on the Environment & Energy Committee [ilga.gov] it's even more important that you get in touch with them.

    My letter (adjusted appropriately for the recipient) reads:

    Senator,

    I just became aware of Senator Rauschenberger's attempt to modify Illinois state law to completely ban municipalities, counties, cities and other political divisions within the state from offering data connection services in Senate bill 499 (specifically, amendment 001).

    As one of your constituents I'd like to strongly encourage you to work against this attempt at ensuring that poorly-served areas of the state remain poorly-served.

    By banning political entities from offering any kind of data services this modification ensures that in areas where no commercial carrier finds it cost-effective to offer services those services will remain completely unavailable even if the residents of an area are willing to provide them for themselves through local government. Even more, even if the infrastructure already exists because the municipality requires it for other uses, it will not be legally allowed for that infrastructure to be made available. This modification prevents the provision of data services that for the most part don't even directly compete with the broadband carriers that are pushing for these limitations - in particular it means that such options as inexpensive low-speed wireless access will not be available, even though that sort of low-cost connection would provide exactly what many people need as it did with the Minitel service in other countries.

    The phrasing of the amendment is also very suspect - what precisely is a "political subdivision of this State," and does that phrasing mean that if this becomes law that all libraries that currently offer wireless Internet access to their patrons must immediately shut it down? Overall Senator Rauschenberger's proposal is an overreaching attempt to limit the options available to Illinois voters in a transparent attempt to cater to large phone and cable companies that aren't even based in Illinois, and I hope I can count on you to oppose it.

    Sincerely,

  • All i have to say is the first one of my Senators or Representatives that brings some shit like this anywhere near the bill-writing paper, is going to get an earful and some pretty shitty press coverage (if they can slip it in between viagra and lexus ads and the endless yammering heads and new, pseudo-metal intros and uber camera crane swoop-intros to HARD HITTING NEWS! ... sorry for the yelling. How else the hell can you say it?).

    Alright, i'm off topic now and will stop. But seriously, what the hell are
  • by eggboard (315140) * on Friday March 04, 2005 @01:09AM (#11841680) Homepage
    My favorite part of this debate is Rep. King stating that you wouldn't want government to go into business by opening a grocery to compete with private enterprise groceries.

    I agree. But if there was a single grocery chain in town and they refused to sell to people who lived in certain parts of town and set prices arbitrarily high compared to similar nearby towns that had more than one grocery, I would expect the government to try to defends its citizens basic right to eat.

    They could encourage competition by helping other groceries open and defending those new groceries, or they could supply food to people who couldn't afford usurious prices.

    But I wouldn't expect my city government to let people starve on the basis of competition.
  • by jacoplane (78110) on Friday March 04, 2005 @02:28AM (#11842012) Homepage Journal
    Interesting article [wired.com] (or audio [akamai.net]). Excerpt:
    You'll be pleased to know that communism was defeated in Pennsylvania last year. Governor Ed Rendell signed into law a bill prohibiting the Reds in local government from offering free Wi-Fi throughout their municipalities. The action came after Philadelphia, where more than 50 percent of neighborhoods don't have access to broadband, embarked on a $10 million wireless Internet project. City leaders had stepped in where the free market had failed. Of course, it's a slippery slope from free Internet access to Karl Marx. So Rendell, the telecom industry's latest toady, even while exempting the City of Brotherly Love, acted to spare Pennsylvania from this grave threat to its economic freedom.
  • A good resource (Score:3, Interesting)

    by mdumouch (636043) on Friday March 04, 2005 @02:36AM (#11842040)

    This topic was covered on PBS' NOW program last weekend.

    http://www.pbs.org/now/transcript/transcriptNOW108 _full.html [pbs.org]

    Short version: Corporations are trying to pass laws restricting what duly-elected officials can do (viz, starting up wireless public networks), EVEN AFTER they have refused invitations to provide the service. (There's a story in the program about a small town that no company would serve, despite being asked, and how the town council did it themselves... and then the telecoms went to the statehouse to try and make what the council did illegal. Interesting.)

  • by Cryofan (194126) <cryofan@@@yahoo...com> on Friday March 04, 2005 @02:41AM (#11842058) Homepage Journal
    I tried to get slashdot to cover the story of the FCC Commissioner member Michael Copps, who really slammed our American broadband policy here in this recent interview [americasnetwork.com]. But they rejected it. So here are some excerpts from the interview:

    FCC Commissioner Says U.S. Broadband Effort Insufficient
    Mar 1, 2005

    ZDNet News via NewsEdge Corporation :

    Michael Copps, one of two Democrats on the five-member Federal Communications Commission,

    As a policy-maker, Copps is outraged that the United States isn't near the top of countries with broadband penetration. While admitting the difficulty in comparing the United States with Japan, Korea or Norway, Copps also voices the growing restlessness of government officials who fret about the private sector's ability to ensure that all Americans get access to broadband.

    Big changes are reshaping the telecom industry. Giant mergers--SBC Communications acquiring AT&T, Verizon Communications swallowing MCI--raise huge questions about how consumers will be affected. More local-government efforts to create their own broadband networks are facing fierce resistance from the Baby Bells and cable companies such as Comcast.

    Calling broadband "the most central infrastructure challenge facing the country right now," Copps is wrestling with how to turn the United States into the most connected country in the world. Can private industries do it themselves, or will it take a regulatory prod to get there? Copps recently spoke with CNET News.com about these issues, as well as the recent complaints of Internet phone service Vonage that it's not getting a fair shake from local phone companies.

    Q: Looking at the state of broadband from the consumer perspective, is adoption at a good point right now?

    A: Well, if I was a consumer I would say, "Why in the hell is the United States No. 13 and heading south in broadband deployment? Why are folks in Korea and Japan maybe getting 10 times the capacity at a half or a third or a quarter of the price? I am paying for the slow setup I've got--that is called high-speed broadband?"

    I don't think there is that much satisfaction with the situation we're in...I think we may be probably the only industrial country on the face of God's green earth that doesn't have a national plan for broadband deployment. We recently got a commitment on a goal, on an objective. But an objective and a strategy are two vastly dissimilar things.

    Q: What makes sense in terms of a national broadband policy?

    A: I think Congress is going to have to work through that. If we are going to fix the Universal Service system, which is predicated on the idea that everybody should have access to comparable communications at comparable and reasonable prices, we have to ask, is our advanced telecommunications part of that or not? Is broadband a part of that or not? So before we start fixing every little problem with universal service I think we ought to have some kind of a philosophical or national purpose or national objective discussion about where does broadband fit in.

    I think we may be probably the only industrial country on the face of God's green earth that doesn't have a national plan for broadband deployment. ...

    At the same time, the state legislature in Indiana recently shot down a bill that would impose significant restrictions on municipalities for launching their own broadband infrastructure services.

    It's not an easy thing if you're the leader of a hard-pressed, cash-strapped municipality--as all of them are in this day and age--to take on additional burden of providing broadband to your people.

    I think we do a grave injustice in trying to hobble municipalities. That's an entrepreneurial approach, that's an innovative approach. Why don't we encourage that instead of having bills introduced--"Oh, you can't do this because it's interfering w
  • Coming Soon (Score:3, Funny)

    by Sierpinski (266120) on Friday March 04, 2005 @09:17AM (#11843282)
    Coming soon to Texas: The Air Tax.

    If you breathe air from within the borders of Texas, or within a "breathing distance" of 0.23 miles, you are subject to the Air Tax, which helps compensate the government for your consumption of oxygen and also provides monies to properly dispose of that nasty carbon dioxide that is exhaled.

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