Why Fie?

People want the internet. People need the internet. Now it’s
just a question of getting the internet to the people. The
Department of Commerce estimates that significant

computer skills will be needed for 95 percent of new jobs
created
. You can’t even apply for many jobs without being
online. If it’s the government’s duty to maintain roads and provide
gas and electricity, then why not the internet?

Robert McChesney and John Podesta, writing in Washington
Monthly
, suggest that the problem isn’t economic, it’s not
even technological. The problem is political.

As

Utne.com
has reported
, the city of Philadelphia set off a
flurry of controversy when it announced plans to install a
city-wide Wi-Fi ‘mesh.’ The deal seemed like a huge win for the
people of Philadelphia: Everyone would get access to the internet,
and no tax dollars would be used. The network would be funded with
bonds and private investment. The city even chose a private
company, EarthLink, to build and maintain the network. But with
visions of Philadelphia as one big Wi-Fi hotspot, the
powers-that-be got scared. The state Legislature quickly passed a
bill barring municipalities from setting up wireless networks. And
Rep.

Pete Sessions
, a Texas Republican,

introduced a similar bill
on the federal level.

Philadelphia managed to get an exemption to the state law so
that it could go ahead with its municipally owned network. But the
question remains, why would anyone want to ban public internet?
Some say it would prevent competition, but in many cases, cities
can renegotiate contracts in the event of problems, according to
the
New
Rules Project’s Minneapolis Wireless Initiative
. The Heartland
Institute, a pro-privatization Chicago-based research group, has
even implied that
municipal
Wi-Fi networks could make cities accessories to internet
crimes
. But another answer can be found in the nickname of the
Pennsylvania legislation banning public internet. According to the
Washington Monthly, many in the state Legislature
nicknamed it the ‘Verizon bill.’

The established telecom companies have a clear vested interest
in maintaining the status quo. CNETNews.com reports that
Verizon charges $30 per month for internet access in Philadelphia,
whereas the

municipal Wi-Fi would cost consumers $16 to $20
. While the
telecom companies — with their

heavy subsidies and political clout
— may not want to rock the
boat, McChesney and Podesta argue that the status quo will no
longer do. The United States is falling behind the technological
curve as countries like Japan actively pursue municipally owned
internet systems. The ‘digital divide’ is allowing populations with
internet access to surge ahead in innovation and education, leaving
those without it in the dust. The United States is putting itself
on the wrong side of this divide by passing laws discouraging
internet access. There are legitimate debates going on right now
about Wi-Fi access. But the question shouldn’t be whether or not it
should be set up. The question should be ‘how.’

Go there >>

Let There Be Wi-Fi

Go there too >>

Wi-Fi Run By Cities: Yea or Nay?

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