The case against municipal

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

wireless...or not."> That said, there is merit to cities studying the implications of a program as ambitious as municipal wireless, particularly when it is to be offered for free. But it should be the cities that make the call—not the states. Thats what local governance is supposed to be about. Right off the bat, I can think of two key issues cities should consider.
1) The impact on local revenues. Big Broadband is not the only one that reaps benefits from the monthly bills. Governmental taxes, surcharges and fees also apply. A municipality has to consider whether it can live without those surcharges and franchise fees.
I looked at my December bill to get some idea of the impact. A full 94 cents of the $122 I paid my cable provider for broadband and video services this month went back to my local government in the form of a franchise fee. (Additionally, the state reaped 38 cents and the FCC took 6 cents.) So, my municipality would have to weigh whether it could live without the sub-$12 it makes off the more-than-$1,400 I pay each year for cable services. Speaking strictly as a consumer, I suspect Id do better paying $12 per year for broadband access directly to my municipality and separately dealing with my cable provider on the video. Would you agree? 2) How to provide attendant services such as tech support, security, spam filtering and general liability. No right-minded city would put legions of muni-workers on salary to build a help desk big enough to handle tech support for potentially tens of thousands of users. If municipal decontrol has done nothing else, it has demonstrated the wisdom of outsourcing municipal electrical maintenance services. So its safe to expect cities, instead, to shop the IT challenges out to local integrators and VARs, leaving the municipality to negotiate citywide service with broadband providers, much as they presently do for cable television. In this scenario, the municipalitys role might look something like Wal-Marts in the retail world—hammering on suppliers to get the best possible prices and services and passing the savings along to customers. And, at the same time, local IT contractors would prosper from the suddenly greatly expanded market of customers. So...hmmm….all of a sudden, the case for municipal wireless begins to sound like a scenario in which we actually preserve free-market principles, uphold deregulation efforts, and keep the communications and technology industries free from burdensome regulations. It has a familiar ring to it. Doesnt it? ALEC, are you listening? Where do you weigh in on the fight for municipal wireless? Write and tell me what you think. More from Carol Ellison: Check out eWEEK.coms for the latest news, reviews and analysis on mobile and wireless computing.

Carol Ellison is editor of'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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