Readers Sound Off on Municipal Wireless

Opinion: Most readers who don't have municipal Wi-Fi want it, but a few told us they don't want government in their broadband in any way, shape, or form.

This week Im turning this space over to the many readers who raised their virtual voices to me in e-mail regarding the ongoing battle over municipal Wi-Fi.

Bills similar to one passed last year in Pennsylvania, which cloud the future of municipal wireless, are now pending in a number of states including Indiana, Ohio and Texas. Some weeks back, I asked you what you thought and quite a number of readers wrote to tell me.

Most of the mail ran strongly in favor of muni Wi-Fi and against legislation such as the new Pennsylvania law, which effectively gives incumbent carriers veto power over municipalities plans to implement it within their cities.

We heard from Esme Vos, who runs Vos said she looks to muni Wi-Fi to "bring some competition in the market for broadband." Vos, a U.S. citizen, lives in Amsterdam, Netherlands, where municipal broadband pipes are open to all competitors—at the governments insistence.

/zimages/7/28571.gifRead Vos letter to see how muni Wi-Fi works in Europe.

I did hear from a few who oppose municipal Wi-Fi, mostly on philosophical grounds. They just dont like governments operating any service of any kind. But one writer worried about the potential for interference on the airwaves if Wi-Fi blankets a city. And we also heard from former Delaware public advocate Evan Wilner, who wrote to express a great deal more confidence in the carriers ability to deliver broadband services than that of local governments, pointing out what a mess Philadelphia has made of other municipal projects.

/zimages/7/28571.gifClick here to read Wilners letter.

While advocates of muni Wi-Fi elsewhere in the country were vocal in opposition to state legislation such as that in Pennsylvania, those in Pennsylvania wrote their laments over what to do now.

Lisa Zylstra, a public relations consultant, spoke up for muni Wi-Fi, saying "residents deserve the right to determine services and providers. The truth is, the traditional service providers would rather complain to the feds than make the necessary investment required to provide wireless and broadband access services everywhere. It kind of reminds me of my children screaming, Its not fair. I say lifes not fair; rather than complain, come up with a better idea."

Kevin Sweeney, MIS manager of Mt. Lebanon, a Pittsburgh suburb with a nationally recognized school district and a reputation for cost-efficient public services (including a free community magazine), wrote to say the community was in the process of implementing wireless access, but "with Gov. Rendell pulling the rug out Im not sure what to do next. I was hoping to partner with a wireless supplier to provide access. They would handle all the aggravation and we would provide the sites for the towers. Our citizens would love to have this capability."

Now he finds his community facing the same dilemmas that Frank Caruso faces in Kutztown—how to provide any kind of service when a state law pre-empts local government and puts the plan in the hands of a single private provider.

/zimages/7/28571.gifClick here to see what Kutztown is doing.

Fred Marsico, a Philadelphia native who is now systems administrator for Corvallis, Ore., wrote to commend his former city "for the courage displayed in offering free or low-cost wireless Internet access throughout the city. I condemn Fast Eddie Rendell for his signature on a bill that gives Big Broadband the role of controller and dictator to wireless access."

Next page: Who pays for municipal wireless?