From American Progress:
CORPORATE POWER Blocking Innovation
With New Orleans police still "scattered in hotels, precinct stations and other makeshift locations" since Hurricane Katrina, city officials were delighted that regional phone giant BellSouth Corp. had agreed "after months of discussions" to donate one of its damaged buildings to serve as a new police headquarters. That is, until last Tuesday, when BellSouth abruptly rescinded the offer. Why the sudden turnaround? Municipal wireless (a.k.a. community Internet). According to the Washington Post, "officials said BellSouth was upset about [New Orleans's] plan to bring high-speed Internet access for free to homes and businesses to help stimulate resettlement and relocation to the devastated city." Though notable for its ruthlessness, BellSouth's move is just the latest evidence that major U.S. telecom firms will stop at little to undercut local control and prevent competition in their efforts to outlaw municipal wireless systems.
SPECIAL INTERESTS PRY OPEN DIGITAL DIVIDE:
Desperate to maintain their monopoly, telecom giants have "done their best to demonize" municipal broadband projects, launching "an aggressive lobbying and misinformation campaign." (After all, Americans won't "need those pesky phone lines or coaxial cables if you can pull your Internet service from the sky.") Earlier this year, Verizon, which successfully blocked Pennsylvania residents from obtaining low-cost Internet access without its permission, circulated a so-called fact sheet "to lawmakers, journalists and opinion leaders" that was full of erroneous statistics on the "'failures' of public broadband." The same is occurring in Houston, where SBC and Time Warner are fighting to stop a proposed municipal wireless system. In fact, former SBC employee Rep. Pete Sessions (R-TX) introduced a bill in May that "would extend the ban on municipal broadband services to every city in the country." Yet all the telecom lobbying work obscures the fact that "the commercial broadband market has not only failed to bring affordable access in 2005, it is nowhere close."
THE WHITE HOUSE'S PRIVATIZATION 'SOLUTION':
The White House and the FCC claim they want universal, affordable broadband by 2007. Yet current telecom policy is "being left in the hands of the cable and phone companies that control at least 93 percent of the country's broadband market." As the Wall Street Journal notes, the "inferior value of [commercial] U.S. broadband service becomes clear when you calculate the monthly 'cost per megabit' of Internet access, or how much you pay to get a megabit's worth of download capability." With Verizon, entry-level broadband users pay about $20 per megabit; in France, customers pay just $1.80 per megabit for a service that is 20+ times faster than Verizon's. This is because "France has strict 'unbundling' rules that force big carriers like France Télécom to make their networks available to other companies offering Web services." But as the Wall Street Journal points out, "In the U.S., unbundling is a dead issue because of heavy lobbying by telephone companies."
WHAT CAN COMMUNITY INTERNET DO FOR YOU?
The benefits of municipal wireless are numerous, as New Orleans has already demonstrated. City officials say the system has proved "invaluable for law enforcement," as "background data checks and other police functions can be done on the WiFi network, relieving pressure on the radio system." Broadband has been put to use "for an array of city government functions, such as speeding approval of building permits," and is being designed specifically to chip away at the digital divide -- the increasing gap "between those who have access to information technology and digital content and those who do not." According to Forbes, New Orleans is "focusing especially on low-income areas that were particularly hard-hit when the levees burst and where phone service has still not resumed." Broadband wireless can do wonders for business, particularly in rural and low-income urban areas, which "are badly underserved by providers of DSL and cable modem broadband." And with free wireless in place, "communities can offer citizens numerous advanced media services for everything from pubic safety and political forums to church services and Internet radio stations."
FREE INTERNET OVER 'FREEDOM FRIES':
Even as conservatives lob insults at our allies abroad, the United States has fallen further behind the rest of the industrialized world in indicators from health care to wireless technology. In the last five years, the United States has dropped from 4th to 16th place in global rankings of broadband Internet usage. "We're behind Hong Kong, Japan, and Israel, as well as most of Western Europe," -- not to mention that broadband rates abroad are as much as 200 times faster than the average U.S. "broadband" rate. Foreign Affairs notes that the United States is no longer even considered "a leader in Internet innovation," a technological set-back that "will cost it dearly." These days, several other industrialized nations are "positioning themselves to be the first states to reap the benefits of the broadband era: economic growth, increased productivity, and a better quality of life."