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Government is going after free WiFi
June 9, 2005 11:22 AM   Subscribe

Republican Congressman Pete Sessions from Texas introduced a bill that would make all free, public, municipal WiFi illegal. Sessions, as it turns out, is a big fat recipient of SBC funds. Why stop there? Should we privatize highways as well? How about subways? Glad the liberal media is all over this one. Here are a couple of links: Original post on DailyKos, An informative editorial from the Fort Wayne paper
posted by mountainmambo (48 comments total)

 
Why stop there? Should we privatize highways as well? How about subways?

Yes. And yes.
posted by shambles at 11:32 AM on June 9, 2005


Because journalists don't want to draw those kinds of connections because it puts their job on the line. I thought Bush's plan for privatization of social security was rather innocent until I was doing some research on his campaign contributors. Turns out, Bush's number one campaign contributor is Merrill Lynch, who gave him a combined total of almost half a million dollars. So I thought to myself... hmm, would Merrill Lynch, a financial company, have anything to gain from Bush's privatization plan? Well yes, in fact, they have profited substantially from privatization in Chile already, just for example. Don't forget, Chile is a third world country. Imagine the money Merrill Lynch would make here from transaction fees from the privatization of social security. The whole thing appears to be a blatant payback from Bush to his friends at Merrill Lynch, yet I have never read a single article, or seen anything making this connection at all... even though it's right there in the face of anyone whose looking for it. Although it may seem obvious, it will never make it past the opinions column.
posted by banished at 11:49 AM on June 9, 2005


Just so I understand the libertarian perspective. Highways and public transportation in New York State work just fine, but because the free market approach allows certain companies to make a profit off privatization, we should simply go along?
posted by mountainmambo at 11:53 AM on June 9, 2005


H.R. 2726.

The American economy was built on central planning. Universal WiFi is no different. Essential infrastructure (however you define it - water, public transit, utilities) is too important to leave to the whims of private institutions.
posted by mrgrimm at 11:58 AM on June 9, 2005


Bush, Cheney, and now this guy? Sheesh. Somebody please mess with Texas.
posted by eustacescrubb at 12:02 PM on June 9, 2005


mountainmambo -- Some people may disagree with you that the highways and public transportation in New York State "work just fine." But their costs are part of the whole public budget. And, if I'm not mistaken, New York State is financially in deep doo-doo. Not having to maintain roads and bridges and the New York City subway system, might save them some money, don't you think?
posted by shambles at 12:03 PM on June 9, 2005


Hell, why doesn't he just outlaw wi-fi hardware and just force us all back to hard-wired ethernet cables. Asshat and a half . . .
posted by mk1gti at 12:08 PM on June 9, 2005


I guess we're off topic here.

would make here from transaction fees from the privatization of social security

You're right, but I don't think it's the transaction fees that really enflames the passions of a company like Merryl Lynch.

One can look at the general historic uptrend of the markets, say the Dow, and figure that this is a given, the (what is it?) 7% annual increase on average.

If someone could figure a way to increase that annual return, across the broad indexes, that would bring happiness and love to the hearts of Wall Streeters for at least a fiscal quarter.

Such a proposal as the Social Security reform could actually do that--it could provide a new engine for the growth in pricing of equities in the markets.

However it's my personal feeling that it's a bad idea to use the equities market to store our retirement, as its real function is not as a value battery, but rather a tool for corporate finance, and a method for trading and exchanging pieces of companies.

These days--I see Google is going to produce a 3D map of San Fransisco, using laser beams--I wonder if corporate funding is the best place to put Gramma Smith's precious retirement beans.

If it were to really work gangbusters, it would simply cause the equities to over-inflate their prices. Then someone would take profits. Bye bye, retirement.

The market can go and stay down for a decade, during which a whole generation can retire and die. I think people know all this, it's been an unpopular proposal, and I think Bush needs to pitch it a few more times.
posted by nervousfritz at 12:08 PM on June 9, 2005


Even if you think privatization is the best way for everything (which I, and most of blacked out California would probably consider crazy) making public Wifi illegal is just phenomenally stupid.
posted by destro at 12:09 PM on June 9, 2005


It is indeed and interesting question. non-profit collectivism can result in initial savings on rollout, but maintenance costs over the lifetime in such an uncompetitive situation tend to eat into the initial savings, and free market competition does indeed result in better consumer choices.

As a lefty-libertarian my head asplodes on this. If it's possible for a municipality to provide universal wireless internet service for much less than the for-profit corporations are willing to go I think I'm for it since the short-term wins are pretty big.

Plus I think the Feds have no business regulating local commerce like this.
posted by Heywood Mogroot at 12:10 PM on June 9, 2005


Not having to maintain roads and bridges and the New York City subway system, might save them some money, don't you think?

Well, sure. Of course, they'll have to give up the land those roads run on, won't they (i'm asking)? Certainly the company(ies) that take over will need to get money from somewhere; tolls? Monthly pass? Even more advertising? And if that works, you could technically privatize EVERY road, right up to your driveway. Of course, if one month you couldn't afford to pay the tolls, you wouldn't be able to leave your subdivision. But hey, that's okay, because if you couldn't afford the taxes for the roads under the old system, you wouldn't have a house at all, right?

I don't know how much of the above is snarky, and how much is sincere. It's so hard to tell these days. This is sincere, however: I believe that essential infrastructure is better left to government without corporate interference through lobbyists, assuming the government genuinely has the best interests of the people at heart. I say this because corporations often benefit from infrastructure decisions that take into account the best interests of the people; a good highway system gets people to your malls, a good healthcare system keeps employees in your cubicles, and free wifi keeps people shopping online whenever they have an idle moment.

So now I guess you can quibble over whether or not WiFi is "essential infrastructure". But I'm sure the same argument took place once upon a time over roads, plumbing, bridges, and so on.
posted by davejay at 12:23 PM on June 9, 2005


Watch the bill's status here.
posted by MrMoonPie at 12:23 PM on June 9, 2005


Oh, almost forgot: the best possible type of politician to have in positions involving infrastructure are the good-deed civil servant types. Hard to find 'em these days, though.
posted by davejay at 12:25 PM on June 9, 2005


Municipal WiFi isn't centrally planned, it's locally planned. Which I happen to think is even better. The farther away you get from the individual, the worse government becomes (IMO).

But god, what a killjoy. Making it illegal for Cities to slightly improve quality of life when it threatens far-away corporations.
posted by delmoi at 12:31 PM on June 9, 2005


This boggles the mind on so many levels...

Even if municipalities provide "free" WiFi access, they need backhauls and eventually internet connectivity. And they'll be buying that from *gasp* the phone companies. I guess that just isn't a big enough piece of the pie.

Several states have already passed initiatives like this. When you consider how many rural areas don't have broadband access because it isn't profitable for phone companies/ISPs, that whole "free market" line really starts to wear thin. Of course, this bill basically states that where it isn't profitable for private companies to provide access, the municipalities can step in.

One wonders if the internet would have even come into existence if it were left to the free market...
posted by kableh at 12:43 PM on June 9, 2005


Free market capitalism cannot work when lawmakers put themselves on the market. And they always do.
posted by fleacircus at 12:56 PM on June 9, 2005


In case you think privatization cures everything, consider the case of The Milwaukee Public Museum.
posted by drezdn at 1:04 PM on June 9, 2005


From the editorial: Ever since the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2004 that states can bar cities from offering high-speed Internet services, lobbyists for telephone and cable companies have descended on state capitals across the nation. Their mission: to take cities out of the broadband business by state dictum. It has been alarmingly successful. More than a dozen states have agreed to do their bidding.

Shit, I had no idea this was going on. Which states have committed this atrocity? (Damn, I'll bet my Missouri is one of them, we are run by the worst sort of bigoted political hacks.)
posted by LarryC at 1:05 PM on June 9, 2005


This was already an issue in Spain. The CMT (Telecommunications Market Commission, Spanish equivalent of the FCC), stopped a project for a similar municipal WiFi network in Barcelona, arguing that it constituted unfair competition to private broadband providers.
Incidentally, the then head of the CMT was a notoriously conservative appointee of the previous government. It may not have been coincidental that at the same time he was involved in a bitter battle with the new, left-wing government because of the latter's intention to move the CMT to...Barcelona, of all places.
posted by Skeptic at 1:09 PM on June 9, 2005


Here in the People's Republic of Austin, our commie hippy city government provides free wireless near its buildings and in some parks. This means that many bars/restaurants on 4th near Republic Square have access. I have no problem with my tax dollars doing this.

Groups like the Austin Free Wireless are spreading the idea of free wireless throughout town.

If the COA wanted to build a citywide wi-fi network, it might be a little complicated considering how spread out things are. But it should be the city and its residents to decide. [Austin owns its own electrity company]. Internet connectivity is just like any other utility and should not be subject to federal law. Thanks DC, but we don't need more fiddling in this. What ever happened to smaller government at the Fed level?

I pay T-mobile $19 a month so I can use the hotspots in airports [too bad they call can't be free like PDX and LAS], Borders and Starbucks and it works for me. I frequent tons of local places with free wireless all the time. I like having the choice between using the city provided free, private business provided, and the pay services.

A city subsidized or free wireless network isn't competing with any for-pay service that I know of. I haven't heard a peep of SBC wanting to provide such a net.

I guess on the bright side, Sessions isn't tying municipal wifi to terrorism.
posted by birdherder at 1:23 PM on June 9, 2005


Oops, I meant :

A city subsidized or free citywide wireless network isn't competing with any for-pay service that I know of. I haven't heard a peep of SBC wanting to provide such a net.
posted by birdherder at 1:41 PM on June 9, 2005


What a @!*$ head. Now I fear the South even more.
posted by ParisParamus at 1:58 PM on June 9, 2005


If those companies were at all smart, they'd sponsor public wifi--as a pr move, and make sure they got their logo plastered over the whole covered areas. It's sad that they're as dumb and venal as politicians. It would probably cost them less than what they're paying lobbyists all over the country, and in "donations" to political campaigns.
posted by amberglow at 2:19 PM on June 9, 2005


Municipal WiFi isn't centrally planned, it's locally planned. Which I happen to think is even better. The farther away you get from the individual, the worse government becomes (IMO).

Agreed. For me, the ideal situation would be a loose central goverment and a strong local government. Federalism?
posted by mrgrimm at 2:21 PM on June 9, 2005


But god, what a killjoy. Making it illegal for Cities to slightly improve quality of life when it threatens far-away corporations.
posted by delmoi


great point delmoi.


ParisParamus you should fear the south you're not welcome here. j/k :P
posted by nola at 2:48 PM on June 9, 2005


One wonders if the internet would have even come into existence if it were left to the free market...

Wonder not, for before the Internet became accessible to the average Joe, there was AOL, and CompuServe, and Prodigy, and all those other folks attempting to make money by charging for access to a large world-spanning network. History tells us which was more successful from a making-big-bucks-for-companies perspective, and which was more successful from a making-people's-lives-better perspective.

Well, actually, you could argue that the Internet overall made more money for corporations than individual companies like AOL et al made for themselves. So I guess the answer to both is "the internets".
posted by davejay at 2:55 PM on June 9, 2005


One wonders if the internet would have even come into existence if it were left to the free market...

Wonder not, for before the Internet became accessible to the average Joe, there was AOL, and CompuServe, and Prodigy, and all those other folks attempting to make money by charging for access to a large world-spanning network. History tells us which was more successful from a making-big-bucks-for-companies perspective, and which was more successful from a making-people's-lives-better perspective.

Well, actually, you could argue that the Internet overall made more money for corporations than individual companies like AOL et al made for themselves. So I guess the answer to both is "the internets".
posted by davejay at 2:55 PM on June 9, 2005


Ack! Accidental double-post! Damn you, internets, damn you to hell!
posted by davejay at 2:56 PM on June 9, 2005


I am for this...as long as the monopoly in the area that wants to keep the government from offering service is willing to ensure EVERYBODY in the area is offered access to high speed internet and/or WIFI.

And, that the level of service will be at least 75% of those other countries that have passed us in bandwidth and speed.
posted by UseyurBrain at 6:04 PM on June 9, 2005


that would make all free, public, municipal WiFi illegal

The bill says:
Effective 60 days after thedate of enactment of the Preserving Innovation in Telecom Act of 2005, neither any State or local government, nor any entity affiliated with such a government, shall provide any telecommunications, telecommunications service, information service, or cable service in any geographic area within the jurisdiction of such government in which a corporation or other private entity that is not affiliated with any State or local government is offering a substantially similar service.
If the WiFi is being ran by a government body (public school, public library, government itself) its not really free then, is it?

Taxpayers are just subsidizing everyone... and I see no reason why when a "corporation or other private entity that is not affiliated with any State or local government is offering a substantially similar service" in the area, that the taxpayers should foot the bill.
posted by Steve_at_Linnwood at 7:05 PM on June 9, 2005


that bill says that the local govts themselves can't even provide their own wireless or anything for employees--they have to use a corp or private entity to do it. Even a local middle school network would be illegal i think, unless it was contracted out to a corp.
posted by amberglow at 7:18 PM on June 9, 2005


I see no reason why when a "corporation or other private entity that is not affiliated with any State or local government is offering a substantially similar service" in the area, that the taxpayers should foot the bill.

Shouldn't this be perfectly acceptable if the taxpayers want to foot the bill?
posted by drezdn at 7:30 PM on June 9, 2005


that bill says that the local govts themselves can't even provide their own wireless or anything for employees

I read the whole three pages of the bill, and did not find that anywhere in it.
posted by Steve_at_Linnwood at 7:58 PM on June 9, 2005


Steve_at_Linnwood writes "If the WiFi is being ran by a government body (public school, public library, government itself) its not really free then, is it?"

According to the passage you quoted, it clearly doesn't matter whether the service is free or not.
posted by clevershark at 8:35 PM on June 9, 2005


what you quoted says that, Steve. It doesn't differentiate between public or internal at all.
posted by amberglow at 8:43 PM on June 9, 2005


Steve_at_Linnwood writes "I read the whole three pages of the bill, and did not find that anywhere in it."

er, this is what you quoted earlier:

Effective 60 days after thedate of enactment of the Preserving Innovation in Telecom Act of 2005, neither any State or local government, nor any entity affiliated with such a government, shall provide any telecommunications, telecommunications service, information service, or cable service in any geographic area within the jurisdiction of such government in which a corporation or other private entity that is not affiliated with any State or local government is offering a substantially similar service.

this specifically sets out that if there is a company offering networking services in a given area, no part of local government may also offer that service. That would clearly cover wireless network services run by the government itself. In fact it could even be said to cover ordinary LANs, as there is no provision dictating that the specified services rendered must be to the public rather than internal.

Maybe there are exceptions explained in the remainder of the document, but I really don't understand how you can claim to not see that when it's in a passage you quoted (?!).
posted by clevershark at 8:43 PM on June 9, 2005


I think Steve_at_Linnwood's point (on preview, his point at 7:05) was that the service is never free. TANSTAAFL. The city still has to pay someone for the bandwith, so the large telecom monopolies are still selling the service to taxpayers. By eliminating the municipal middleman, individuals get to decide for themselves if they want to participate in (read: pay for) the service.

Looking at this from another angle: given the amount of data sharing between local and national government in post PATRIOT America, I'm kind of surprised to see so many people wanting to have their internet access provided by a government body.
posted by Uncle Ira at 8:54 PM on June 9, 2005


Holy crap!
A broad interpretation of the proposed law would eventually shut down state and local government's networks, since an enity that provides the government the service then becomes affiliated to the government.
What a dumb idea, this could put the state and local governments out of business, leaving the federal government as the only functioning bureacracy .... oh .... ok, is it just me, or did this bill suddenly get a creepy feeling to it ...

*mumbles* I know I should have never listened to Art Bell ...
posted by forforf at 9:41 PM on June 9, 2005


UncleIra: as if the internet provided privately gives any more protections than public access would? The MPAA/RIAA have shown us that private ISPs are more than willing to hand over private info on a whim.

Internet access of any sort provides no privacy inherently. None. But privacy online is far from impossible. You just need to know what you're doing - encryption, VPNs, etcetera.

And when it comes to S@L's supposed "argument", the same could be applied to water, fresh air, parks, the environment, whatever. Everything has a cost. Does that mean everything should be given a price tag? (this is where S@L pipes in and says "yes," i'm well aware.)
posted by mek at 12:29 AM on June 10, 2005


Pertinent to part of this thread, the UK is considering making pretty much all roads in the country pay as you go. Details can be found here and here. Government announcement here.
posted by biffa at 2:23 AM on June 10, 2005


Does that mean everything should be given a price tag?

If you don't give everything a price (or 'value') tag, how do you charge when people pollute it?
posted by biffa at 2:24 AM on June 10, 2005


supposed "argument"

LOL. You're funny.
posted by Steve_at_Linnwood at 5:54 AM on June 10, 2005


Just pointing out that though the supreme court ruled that *states* can bar municipalities from offering Wifi, that doesn't mean the feds can bar it. Constitutionally, the federal government can only regulate commerce when its interstate.
posted by adzuki at 6:11 AM on June 10, 2005


I would argue WiFi access, which in most networks will allow internet access, seems a lot more "interstate commerce"-like, than some other federal laws (upheld by the supreme court) that have trumped state laws (medical marijuana being one).
posted by forforf at 7:06 AM on June 10, 2005


Constitutionally, the federal government can only regulate commerce when its interstate.

LOL, Gonzales v. Raich
posted by Steve_at_Linnwood at 8:02 AM on June 10, 2005


If you don't give everything a price (or 'value') tag, how do you charge when people pollute it?

It's called a "fine".
posted by nickp at 1:15 PM on June 10, 2005


It's called a "fine"

Or clean it up.
posted by futureproof at 3:05 PM on June 12, 2005


How do you come to an appropriate level for the fine if you haven't got a methodology for valuing the level of damage?
posted by biffa at 1:16 AM on June 13, 2005


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