The Washington Post is reporting that Bell South withdrew the donation of a building to the City of New Orleans – that was to be used for local police – when the city announced plans for a free WiFi network. Why do you think Bell South did this?
Let me preface my comments with a technical explanation. A municipal network can provide wired and wireless access to the Internet and Intranets. WiFi networks are usually created to provide wireless access to EVERYTHING you can get to via the Internet. The term free WiFi describes the cost of the service at the time of use. Not the actual cost of the WiFi to all citizens or the Town. Dispersing or delaying the cost of access to the Internet can really help people like the working poor.
Here in Chapel Hill, NC fear of angering local businesses and large corporations is preventing a municipal network from being created by the Town. See how Bell South treats suffering New Orleans? Remember what Verizon did to Philadelphia? Imagine what big bad business will do to Chapel Hill if we dare give something to those in need!
Based on their actions and inactions many local citizens are against a free town WiFi network. I think they believe it’s wrong for the government to provide free services. They CLAIM free WiFi will unfairly compete with and disrupt businesses. This fear is incredibly short cited. The potential for other money making possibilities if the Internet is available to all is HUGE. The evidence is all over the place! Just look at how much money some business could make building the WiFi network and providing the network access. Somebody has to pay for this. Someone will profit from it.
So if there is money to be made in the private sector by the creation of a free town WiFi network then why is business against it? Network providers and ISPs understand that the real money isn’t in building networks but leveraging the data that is collected en mass about users network usage habits. All you have to do is look at Google’s billions and you can quickly understand that user data is big money. By retaining complete control over access to the Internet you can understand how it’s used. Over time this information becomes more and more detailed. A local government who controlled access to the Internet might have issues with a business watching how they use it.
The Internet has provided a more level playing field for making money. Individuals and small businesses can compete effectively with large business and government. This has put large business, like Bell South, on the defensive to protect what they already have and profit from generously. In the near future pipes to the Internet will be guarded much more diligently. They will become expensive toll roads to the public’s information super highway. Read the article Saving the Net: How to Keep the Carriers from Flushing the Net Down the Tubes by Doc Searls to get the details and context.
In my estimation the biggest reason for business opposition to a free town WiFi network boils down to GREED. By working against it businesses and business people are preventing a valuable public service from being utilized by those who need it most. In Chapel Hill this is mainly poor black people – children, senior citizens, teens, and adults.
I don’t need free internet access. I can afford it, own the hardware to use it, and have the skills to take advantage of it. So can all the anti-public/pro-business people. Why not open your caring hearts and give other people this amazing privilege?
In the US we finally obtained public water, sewer, roads, street lighting, slumlord regulations, public transportation, public TV, etc. etc. etc. Do you think we got all these great public services by just asking nicely for them? NO! People in need had to suffer and die before the robber barons of the 19th Century would relinquish one tiny bit. (See the book People’s History of the United States by Howard Zinn for the details.)
Citizens aren’t just asking for a hand out. We work for public services everyday. Public services aren’t free. They are only loaned to us at the time we use them. We pay back the local government for them later in taxes of all kinds. Yet another issue business has. They don’t want local government to get more of their money.
How will we win FREE public internet access for all? We reframe the debate and publicly shame businesses. The issue right now isnâ€™t a technical one or really one of cost. The core issue right now is greedy business unwilling to allow the public free access to the Internet. You can look at it how ever you wish but greed is preventing “liberal” Chapel Hill from doing the right thing and building a free town WiFi network.