March 03, 2005
Municipal wireless ban making waves

The Chron and the Statesman both have good stories on HB789, the misguided attempt by Rep. Phil King (R, Weatherford) to ban municipalities from offering free wireless Internet service. I've noted before that King appears to be open to changes in his approach, but it's clear that he still doesn't get it. From the Chron:

King's chief of staff, Trey Trainor, said they are rewriting the telecommunications bill to recognize that there are legitimate uses for municipal networks, such as public safety communication, meter-reading and other city services. King's basic objection, Trainor said, stands in a free-market system it's not acceptable to let public government compete with private businesses.

And from the Statesman:

King used an analogy. A city shouldn't get into the grocery business, even if there's none in town, he said. Instead, he said, the state should provide incentives to companies in places where there is no competition.

"It's the idea of a free enterprise system," King said. "As a matter of public policy, we can't let the public sector compete with the private sector."

Why? If the cost is so low that it's viable for cities and even tiny towns to offer it as a basic service for their citizens, then why shouldn't they be allowed to do so? I keep hearing, in this day and age of mega telco mergers, that the word of the day is "bundling", as in "You may not be able to get a better deal on long-distance service, but if you buy our complete local/long-distance/high-speed Internet/cable/satellite TV bundle, you'll see savings." Why not make SBC and Time Warner and whoever else is bitching about this compete on that turf? Dwight Silverman, who notes that this bill could kill the newly-added WiFi service at Hobby Airport, and SaveMuniWireless are thinking along similar lines.

Best example of why our legislative process often sucks, from the Statesman:

State Rep. Phil King, the sponsor of House Bill 789, said he was taken aback by the intensity of the opposition and said he will go back to the drawing board to make sure cities can continue to offer the service in libraries and other public facilities.

"I had no idea we would have 2 1/2 days of testimony on broadband," King, R-Weatherford, said Tuesday. "But the toothpaste is out of the tube. . . . This deal is a brave new world of emerging technologies, and we have to kind of muddle through it."

Asked where the provision originated, King said it arose from hearings of the Regulated Industries Committee, which he chairs.

"It was just me, sitting in the hearings," listening to industry representatives talk about broadband, he said.

Hey, Phil. Get out of your cocoon every once in awhile, OK? You represent more than just industry lobbyists, and what you do affects people besides them, too.

Kudos to Susan Combs:

"For economic development, it is a death blow in the 21st century if you don't have broadband," said Texas Agriculture Commissioner Susan Combs. "If I wanted to encourage some company to move to small-town Texas, . . . they will ask about education and housing. And then they will ask about broadband."


Combs said that while rural communities are less affluent, broadband can cost $70 a month, compared with $30 a month in Austin.

She wants cities and towns to have the option to offer broadband if no one else will.

"You can't possibly abandon small town after small town if the big boys want to cherry pick," Combs said. "Let the home folks have a shot at it."

And to Melissa Noriega:

Melissa Noriega, the acting state representative for the area covered by Technology for All, called the effort to ban municipal participation in wireless Internet efforts "short-sighted," and said she will work to prevent it from becoming law.

Noriega said families that cannot speak fluent English can be transformed by learning to use a computer and crossing the digital divide they learn how to spell-check, can find translation services online, e-mail family in their home countries, and much more.

"This may be the single biggest step we can take to close the gap between the haves and have-nots," she said.

Right on. Let's hope Rep. King, now that he's out of his spider hole, will come to his senses.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on March 03, 2005 to That's our Lege | TrackBack

The State of WI is trying to do some of this as well, in small communities, as part of the Grow Wisconsin initiative. They're looking at wireless in the capital and the airport (Milwaukee and Green Bay are on their own) and forcing the telcos to push broadband where they don't have it now.

Some of my endusers still don't have the capability of broadband at home, up near the Canadian border, and for them, a 22,400 connection is excellent dial-up speed. If their towns could get high-speed service off of the new statewide WAN, and then put up a muni-wifi system, life'd be much better.

I hope this doesn't pass in TX, because if it does, SBC can come in here and try the same stuff. Already some fo the republicans are talking about suing the governor to prevent the state's plans for Madison.

Posted by: Rich on March 3, 2005 12:22 PM