July 5, 2005 | By Donna Wentworth

What's Stupider Than Calling the Internet an "Information Superhighway"?

Proposing a federal law to stop local governments from filling the pot holes with free municipal WiFi:

Late in May, a member of Congress from Texas named Pete Sessions proposed a bill called the Preserving Innovation in Telecom Act, which would prevent municipal governments from offering people free or low-cost Internet service. Why would an elected official want to bar cities from giving their residents quick and easy access to the Internet? That's easy: Sessions used to work for SBC, a telecom company that could lose a little business if cities started setting up local WiFi networks or Internet kiosks. I guess his old buddies in the network biz are more valuable to him than his constituents. It's sort of like a former contractor trying to ban government-sponsored road building in cities because asphalt companies might lose out. In the end, nobody can drive to work anymore.

Sort of.

If this scenario sounds familiar, it should. Senator Rick Santorum (R-PA) has a similar proposal that seeks to bar tax-funded weather services from making weather information easily available to...taxpayers.

Private actors often can do better in providing telecom services, but that's no reason for a federal ban on municipal WiFi. Local governments should be free to experiment with different approaches to see what works best.

For more on the fight over municipal WiFi, check out EFF Board member Lawrence Lessig's Wired piece, Why Your Broadband Sucks.


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