What about those free

By Carol Ellison  |  Posted 2004-12-28 Print this article Print

market principles?"> Just before Christmas, muni-wireless evangelist Esme Vos, posted a copy of "model legislation" for municipal Internet access (called the Municipal Telecommunications Private Industry Safeguards Act) on her Web site. According to Vos, it is being promoted by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). Founded in 1973, ALEC is a lobbying group with a history thats tied as deeply to conservative lawmakers as it is to big business (or, in this case, big broadband). The brainchild of Republican party regulars U.S. Rep. Henry Hyde of Illinois and Lou Barnett, a veteran of Ronald Reagans 1968 Presidential campaign, it moved from think tank to advocacy group in 1981 with the formation of a series of task groups charged with developing model legislation. And, it boasts an unusually successful track record.
"This ridiculous piece of nonsense, masquerading as model legislation like the Uniform Commercial Code," writes Vos, "is making the rounds of U.S. state legislatures."
Ridiculous, perhaps. But it is also formidable. And, in the case of Pennsylvania, it was successful. I couldnt find the Municipal Telecommunications Private Industry Safeguards Act on ALECs Web site. Then again, I couldnt find any model legislation on ALECs Web site, although its obviously out there somewhere. Model legislation coming out of the groups Telecommunications and Information Technology Task Force (and all their task forces, in fact) is tucked behind a gated Web page for members only. This country-club approach puzzles me. By ALECs own description, the groups Telecommunications and Information Technology Task Force is designed "to guide policymakers" through the "uncharted waters" of modern technology. The group claims it brings together "state legislators, industry representatives, and public policy experts to develop state public policy that will preserve free-market principles, uphold deregulation efforts, and keep the communications and technology industries free from burdensome regulations"...from sea to shining sea. The seas are my addition. I couldnt resist. Something in my upbringing just says a group that espouses "free market principles" shouldnt be blocking tax-paying citizens (who fund legislators salaries, consume the products of industry, and represent the "public" in public policy) from learning how it plans to influence our governance. But, then, lets get real. Ask yourself why would Big Broadband want to publicly show its hand before it slides its intentions into law? Would any consumer of Internet services ever accept, under any circumstances, the protectionist arguments of an industry that most users believe charges too much and delivers too little? Next page: The case against municipal wireless...or not.

Carol Ellison is editor of eWEEK.com's Mobile & Wireless Topic Center. She has authored whitepapers on wireless computing (two on network security–,Securing Wi-Fi Wireless Networks with Today's Technologies, Wi-Fi Protected Access: Strong, Standards-based Interoperable Security for Today's Wi-Fi Networks, and Wi-Fi Public Access: Enabling the future with public wireless networks.

Ms. Ellison served in senior and executive editorial positions for Ziff Davis Media and CMP Media. As an executive editor at Ziff Davis Media, she launched the networking track of The IT Insider Series, a newsletter/conference/Web site offering targeted to chief information officers and corporate directors of information technology. As senior editor at CMP Media's VARBusiness, she launched the Web site, VARBusiness University, an online professional resource center for value-added resellers of information technology.

Ms. Ellison has chaired numerous industry panels and has been quoted as a networking and educational technology expert in The New York Times, Newsday, The Los Angeles Times and The Wall Street Journal, National Public Radio's All Things Considered, CNN Headline News, WNBC and CNN/FN, as well as local and regional Comcast and Cablevision reports. Her articles have appeared in most major hi-tech publications and numerous newspapers and magazines, including The Washington Post and The Christian Science Monitor.

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