Municipal Wi-Fi

Today’s WSJ reports efforts by the telcos to block municipal plans to offer Wi-Fi to their citizens in Pennsylvania. Verizon lobbied the legislature to block attempts by cities to offer free Wi-Fi.

My thinking on telco stupidity and avarice was formed by Charles Ferguson’s excellent polemic, “The Broadband Problem: Anatomy of a Market Failure and a Policy Dilemma “.

Ferguson, former CEO of Vermeer, the company that developed Frontpage, a WYSIWIG HTML editor acquired by Microsoft, is a research fellow at the Brookings Institute. I highly recommend the book.

While the role of municipal governments in granting utility monopolies to cable companies was hashed out in the 1980s — essentially awarding a town or city to a single provider to cut down on infrastructure disruption — Wi-Fi doesn’t involve ComCast trucks hanging devices off of utility poles, provides broadband to the masses in the spirit of POTS for all, and if anything, will goad the lazy Verizons of the world to get off their dark-fiber asses and start eating their profitable T-1 businesses.

I’m all in favor of broadband at all costs, especially in rural areas where broadband is every bit as much of an economic development incentive as roads without potholes. While I rather see the private marketplace do its economic magic, the cozy relationship between the Telcos and public utility commissions insures we’ll never see true free market capitalism at work.