Tuesday, October 04, 2005

I Demand My Rights!

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom, who became internationally known for his campaign a year ago to legalize gay marriage, said on Monday he considered wireless Internet access a fundamental right of all citizens.

"This is inevitable -- Wi-Fi. It is long overdue," Newsom told a news conference at San Francisco's City Hall. "It is to me a fundamental right to have access universally to information," he said.

We will not stop until every San Franciscan has access to free wireless Internet service.


OK, I do admit that I slept through some of my Civics classes in high school, but I cannot for the life of me remember where in our Constitution it states that wireless Internet access is a fundamental right of all US citizens.

Let me see:

- establish Justice
- insure domestic Tranquility
- provide for the common defence
- promote the general Welfare
- secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity

... but no fundamental right of free/cheap wireless Internet access. Surely to goodness no mayor of a major US city would be so mistaken - obviously my copy of the Constitution is lacking.

Free/cheap wireless Internet access for everyone:
- useful
- fun
- occasionally necessary for a minority of people (people that probably already have wireless access anyway)

But a fundamental right? Akin to having firemen and policemen? Just like having the right to vote? In the same character as having a free press?

YoYo Newsom goes on, in his infinite wisdom, to exclaim:
This is a civil rights issue as much as anything else.
Not content with his new-found definitions of "fundamental right" or "civil right" Gonzo Newsom opines:
My intent is to have the taxpayers pay little or nothing.

The mayor said he had no exact figures on how much it would cost to build a wireless umbrella to cover the entire city, but cited general estimates that have ranged from $8 million to $16 million for antennas and other gear. So if the taxpayers are going to pay "little or nothing", then where, pray tell, will the estimated $8 million to $16 million come from? Will Google or Cingular or EarthLink simply provide San Francisco with their wireless Internet access umbrella at no cost? Sure, maybe Ericsson or Motorola or Nortel or Extreme Networks will create some sort of ad-based system to defray some costs, but can they do it to the tune of $8-16 million. Or maybe GigaBeam or SkyTel or Verizon will simply stick it to their users who live outside of San Francisco - yeah, maybe my cell phone bill will go up to cover the cost of providing San Francisco's homeless with free wireless access.

Google says they can do it for free for San Francisco. My question then would be when is Google going to do the same to Atlanta, and to the rest of the nation? Surely San Francisco is no better than Wichita or Bar Harbor.

How about this tasty tidbit from crybaby Adam Werbach:
Each month, San Franciscans pay about $50 for a high-speed Internet connection from either SBC or Comcast. In some neighborhoods, like Bayview-Hunters Point, it's not even universally available at that outrageous price.

Uh, I don't mean to burst your bubble, but that's the same price we pay here in Atlanta. What are you complaining about, little boy? And guess what: there is no universally available wireless Internet access across Atlanta either. What are you crying about, little girl?

And this whiner goes on:
We could decide to create enterprise zones -- Chinatown, Bayview- Hunters Point, the Mission -- where access is free. We could make wireless Internet access free at all libraries, schools and community centers.

The speed of broadband services is always rising and the price is always falling - ain't Capitalism great? And with little government help too.

What he doesn't mention, careful readers, is who WOULD be paying whatever fee to provide these free areas. He does stumble, though, on a possible explaination:

San Francisco can provide a base level of high-speed service to its citizens; the cable and telephone companies can focus on higher-priced commercial applications...
There ya go - soak the evil, rich companies in order to provide free services to the "poor" - otherwise known as a Quality Marxist Plan For Society.

Are wireless networks better serviced by government or by private business? Are wireless networks deemed to be a product of government or of private business? Are wireless networks a right granted by government or a product provided by private business? Indiana, for instance, is considering a law that could prohibit cities from, "controlling, owning, or operating" Internet service for their residents, even though several cities in the state already provide service because telecom companies wouldn't build networks there.

And then there's the "why", like why is über-Leftist Newsom doing this in the first place? I haven't heard about anything like this going on in Atlanta.
Making wireless access affordable to the entire population of San Francisco was a vital step to differentiating the city in order to make it more economically competitive on a state, national and global level, Newsom said.
Ahhh, so it AIN'T so much a fundamental right of the people, or the civil rights issue of the people, but rather the ECONOMICAL ability of San Francisco to be different from other US cities in order to make it more economically competitive on a state, national and global level. Wow. So much for the "rights" of San Francisco's downtrodden - it looks to me like this is all about attracting more $$$ into San Francisco's tax vault.

And this takes us back to an old fight:
- bureaucrats and government or capitalists and companies
- dependence on the government or dependence on yourself
- Stalin or Bush

Don't get me wrong on this: Free and unlimited access to the Internet, from anywhere you stand, would vault us into a tech age unthinkable today. Cities large and small are either creating or enlarging their hot-spots into hot-zones. Knowing that easy Internet access is buzzing all around you and that web-surfing is no longer an activity that requires you to stay at home tethered to your modem, DSL, or cable modem is indeed a wonderful prospect. What a world it would be if high-speed internet access were to become the same as today's roads and sewer lines. And I too would like for every US citizen to not only have such access but also be internet-savy enough to get something out of it. It would also mean that telephone, cable, sattelite, broadcast, film, and music companies would have to re-think their very business model. I just have great concern when an elected government official starts spouting newly-defined "rights" that we all have suddenly acquired.

But do we really want city hall between us and our Google searches? Don’t worry. You can bet that after being inundated with customer service calls ("Where do I stick my dongle?") these Mu-Fi’s will be sold back to the private sector. There has never been a government endeavor that the private sector couldn't do better and cheaper.

As a matter of fact, of some 55,000 towns and municipalities in the U.S., only about 200, or 0.5 percent, operate municipal broadband networks. Many communities that have taken the plunge have experienced large losses that must be paid for by taxpayers or ratepayers. For example, Iowa Communications Network "consistently requires large subsidies to continue in business"; California’s CALNET system was some $20 million in debt when it was privatized in 1998; Lebanon, Ohio originally projected the cost of building its FTTH network at $5 million and ended up spending $9 million and later had to authorize $14.8 million in mortgage revenue bonds to cover operating losses; and Marietta, Georgia lost more than $35 million operating its municipal broadband network before it was sold (at a loss) to American Fiber Systems in September 2004. Ain't government just peachy?

Broadband services are already available to virtually everyone who wants them. Today virtually everyone who wants broadband services can get Digital Subscriber Line (DSL) service from their telephone company or cable modem service from their cable company. Cable, telephone, and wireless broadband providers have spent billions of dollars rolling out service in areas that were previously underserved. T-1 service is available to businesses over existing telephone lines and Direct Broadcast Satellite (DBS) service is available from DirecTV and EchoStar. MDS (multipoint distribution service), or wireless cable, is widely deployed in smaller towns, and starting next year, WiMax will be deployed in communities across the country. So who is it that San Francisco is wanting to provide service to? But then it's not as much as the "who" as it is "doing it for free" - and most of you out there are intelligent enough to know that nothing is free, it's simply paid for by someone else.

Generally speaking, municipal ownership of broadband networks is probably not in the best interests of residents and most businesses, even in communities not well served today by private providers. Access to broadband services is more plentiful than advocates of municipalization claim or admit, suggesting the real issue is not availability but price and who should pay it.

It is unlikely that more than a small number of residents would benefit from a municipally owned broadband network, that their benefits would justify the steep cost, or that it is fair to force other residents and businesses to subsidize them. It is fanciful to imagine that municipal broadband is a cost-effective way to promote economic development.

Very few cities attempt to build and own broadband networks because the costs and financial risks are too great. Cities that have taken the leap simply illustrate the riskiness of the venture, costing their taxpayers and ratepayers millions of dollars in subsidies with no end in sight. Threatening to build a municipal broadband network may have been a good strategy two years ago, to prompt incumbent cable and telephone companies to make good on past promises. Following through with municipalization, however, is not a good idea.

Maybe David McClure, chief executive of the U.S. Internet Industry Association, says it best with:
What we are really doing is creating a massive white elephant project for a handful of citizens.