Slugging it out over muni Wi-Fi

Two views on the heated debate over city-sponsored Wi-Fi networks

1 2 3 4 Page 2
Page 2 of 4

Should government do this?

Perhaps the most hotly debated issue related to muni Wi-Fi is whether government should be involved in such projects. Supporters such as Vos say muni Wi-Fi is no different from other utility services offered by municipalities, such as trash pickup or water. Plus, it's the municipalities' duty to provide such services when other service providers don't, Vos claimed.

"There's a digital divide," Vos said. "In New York City, large areas of the Bronx and Brooklyn don't have broadband or cable because the residents are poor. If the city wants to redevelop a poor area, how do you attract a real estate developer or tenants if there's no broadband? It would be like attracting people if there are no roads. You'd never attract businesses to these areas without broadband."

The lack of available broadband means a lack of opportunity for those who live in such neighborhoods, she added.

"If your family doesn't have or can't afford broadband, and your classmates who can afford it sit at home and do their research on the Internet, you're missing out and not learning on a lot of skills," Vos said.

Opponents like Balhoff don't believe cities have an obligation to provide such service.

"It's political posturing at its worst," Balhoff said. "There are ways to decide whether you'll subsidize people who live in certain communities or provide them with free technologies rather than saying you'll provide it across the entire population of the city."

Besides, he added, broadband prices already are low.

"Verizon offers DSL service in the same speed range [as municipal Wi-Fi] for as little as $15 a month," Balhoff said. Just as important, he said, is that it just isn't right that governments are competing with private business.

"If these types of operations were compelling financial projects, then you'd have a rush of entrepreneurs putting in these types of services," Balhoff said. "That's the nature of the capitalist system we're part of. The fact that you don't see any carrier-class entities or even entrepreneurs rushing into this space means you should beware."

Taxpayer risk?

Vos and other proponents say there is little risk to taxpayers for two reasons. First, Vos claimed that public networks would pay for themselves even if the only subscriber was the city.

"The cities plan to use the network not just for public access but also for their own purposes, like public safety," she said. "Any employee who goes out is more efficient and saves the city money if they're on a citywide network. They can check records or file forms without returning to the office -- that sort of thing. Public employees become more efficient and the cities can cancel T1 lines, which is one reason why the [incumbent telecoms] aren't happy."

1 2 3 4 Page 2
Page 2 of 4
7 inconvenient truths about the hybrid work trend
Shop Tech Products at Amazon