Is the Internet the Public Utility of the Future?

Media reform advocates maintain that the internet is a necessary
utility, and as such, should be available at an affordable cost.
But many people living in the United States face
geographic
and financial barriers to high speed internet
— putting them
at a distinct disadvantage in today’s digitized world. As
Roberto
Lovato writes in In These Times
, ‘[C]ontrol over and
access to broadband connectivity is defining global, regional and
individual success.’

From the void of the digital divide, cities have stepped up to
the challenge of providing universal internet access, but not
without opposition from the telecommunications and cable companies
eager to maintain
their hegemony in the marketplace
. Earlier this year, the fight
over broadband garnered national attention when the city of
Philadelphia and proponents of media reform won an important
legislative battle against teleco and cable giants over the city’s
right to provide high-speed internet access; the communications
companies had maintained that the city’s proposal presented unfair
competition.

Hundreds of cities and towns across the country are following in
Philadelphia’s footsteps and wiring their own communities, as
CNET‘s interactive map charting municipal broadband
projects
shows. San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom is getting
serious about encompassing the entire city with wireless, recently
issuing an open call for ideas on how to make it work, the
San Francisco Chronicle reports.

Initiatives like those in Philadelphia and San Francisco have
telecommunications companies, CEOs, and the think tanks they fund
on the legislative offensive. Though anti-municipal internet bills
have flopped in Iowa, Florida, and Texas,

Representative Pete Sessions
(R-Texas) recently introduced a
bill in the House that would
prohibit cities from
developing their own broadband networks
.

While cities and communications companies battle over their
rights as internet providers, some individuals have begun
installing Wi-Fi networks and opening them up to their neighbors.
Neighbornode, a project
developed by students in New York University’s Interactive
Telecommunications Program, helps individuals share their internet
access with the added bonus of neighborhood bulletin boards that
connect people online and on the street.

Go there >>
The
Whiteness of Wi-Fi

Go there too >>
Americans
Falling Woefully Behind the Rest of World in Broadband
Access

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