Magazine article State Legislatures

WiFi, Why Not?

Magazine article State Legislatures

WiFi, Why Not?

Article excerpt

When your city utility bill arrives, could it soon include water, garbage ... and wireless broadband Internet?

Legislators attending the Annual Meeting of the National Conference of State Legislatures in Seattle heard a panel of experts discuss the possibilities and pitfalls of municipal governments building and operating wireless broadband Internet service, or WiFi.

At least 40 city and other local governments now provide wireless hot zones to their citizens via WiFi networks. Another 34 municipal governments are considering the idea. Supporters say the nation is losing its technology lead, and broadband Internet is the 21st century equivalent of getting electricity and water to residents.

WiFi can increase the number of people who can access the Internet, increase the speed of the Internet service and promote economic development. But should cities provide it? Opponents say it is an expensive investment and may hamper private company participation in developing telecommunications infrastructure in communities.

Steven Titch, senior fellow for IT and telecommunications policy at the Heartland Institute, says the comparison to traditional utilities like water is inaccurate. He points to a July 2005 report by Jupiter Research that says 50 percent of municipal initiatives to establish broadband service will fail. The report says the cost of $150,000 per square mile over five years could prove difficult for local governments already struggling with expenses.

The demand to bridge the "Digital Divide" drives cities like Philadelphia to build and operate lower-cost broadband like WiFi, according to Pennsylvania Representative W. …

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