Monday, March 27, 2006

Sinful Private Enterprise: Telecommunications Lobbyists Leveraging the Severance of New Orlean's Only Post-Katrina Lifeline

Pass the word. Telecom corporations are lobbying the Louisiana state government not just to end free, public Wi-Fi networks in general, but they are also hitting legislators hard to terminate free Wi-Fi during emergency conditions like after Katrina hit. The New Orleans CIO who post-Katrina got all downtown businesses back on line by opening the city's wireless network, says he would rather go to jail than shut down the city's public Wi-Fi. That network also provided the sole source of information out of the Big Easy when reporters could not get in. According to the report:
“The vendors, the BellSouths [a.k.a., the ATTs] of this world, are not only going to force us back, making our existing Wi-Fi illegal, but also they want to close a loophole for emergencies so that we would not do this again,” said Mr. Meffert.

BellSouth declined to comment. But telecommunications and cable giants have tried to restrict city-sponsored broadband initiatives in other parts of the United States. Several states bar local governments from competing with private telecommunications services.

Legal or not, Mr. Meffert said he and Mayor Ray Nagin plan to keep offering the service as long as they feel an emergency exists.

“If I have to go to jail, I guess I will,” he said. “If they really want to play that game, I guess they are right. But we simply cannot turn off these few lifelines we have to our city and businesses.”
Local government "competing" with private business? There's no sense in defining it that way. it's the equivalent of saying that when local governments provide public parks they are competing with private plazas. There's no competition. Broadband belongs to the public, and private business should keep its icy mitts off local government's interest in keeping Wi-Fi public.

Fight the power, Big Easy. Let's turn this into a whole new Battle of New Orleans.


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