Sunday, May 08, 2005

‘Not In The Public Interest –The Myth of Municipal Wi-Fi Networks’

Ownership of broadband networks by municipalities, like many other government initiatives, is framed in terms of best intentions. Proponents of municipal broadband ventures assert that a highspeed network will be a means of energizing decrepit downtown areas, breaking poverty cycles, increasing tourism, and earning a reputation as a tech-friendly city. Advocates seem to possess a euphoric “build it and they will come” mentality, hoping that fast and convenient internet access will
attract businesses and workers that stimulate the tax base, and keep young tech-savvy professionals from moving elsewhere.

It is an illegitimate function of government to provide goods and services that the market is willing and able to provide. Governments should be in the business of delivering only those products and services that are necessities for almost all of their residents, and which markets won’t or can’t deliver. In fact, the trend across the nation (and across the world) is to privatize government services. Governments have found tremendous cost savings by contracting out traditional government
functions such as jail management, landscaping maintenance, even emergency services, to private companies. They have found that the best way to get needed services to the people is through market forces, not through government command and control. The movement toward municipal networks, then, is counter to this experience and observation.

What is the real reason for municipal networks? Ultimately, after examining all of the negative aspects of municipal networks, one is forced to conclude that what is really driving municipalities toward offering municipal networks is that they view such networks as a new source of revenue for their unlimited spending appetites. In their imaginations, once built, the network will provide them with a new stream of cash with which they can build new administrative buildings and new vehicles, all the while playing at big business with the tax dollars of their constituents. That is illusory.

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