In America, on the other hand, the political right wing is trying to kill a similar low-cost system.
The battleground is in Philadelphia right now, but all was peaches and cream in 2002.
Back then, businesses were backing the One Economy Corporation‘s efforts to bring low-income Americans into the economic mainstream. One Economy was working to provide "digital inclusion" for residents of affordable housing by helping wire buildings, the acquisition of computers and with special localized content. Their Beehive site provided information about money, health, school, jobs and family. Cisco, for example, was helping, and proud of its efforts to Bridge the Digital Divide. (Story links open in new windows)
By the following year One Economy had expanded to 12 cities. Telephony Online described their work in bringing broadband to low-income residents in the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood of Brooklyn [Broadband For Everyone 2/24/03]. Senators Orrin Hatch (R-UT) and John Kerry (D-MA) introduced a bill that would amend the tax code to include broadband availability as one of the factors in determining low-income housing credits. The Beehive now provided health care assistance and jobs listings in English and Spanish.
The government liked this and came up with the E-rate program to help subsidize the wiring of schools and public libraries, as well as efforts to provide broadband to rural areas. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-TN) and then-Minority-Leader Tom Daschle (D-SD) backed the efforts.
And then last year Philadelphia decided to provide poorer neighborhoods with wi-fi hot-spots. With less wiring required, broadband access would be less expensive. Families could buy computers for $120 and get high-speed access for $10 a month. [Program Aids Urban Poor In Accessing The Internet 08/09/04]
So Verizon got pissed.
Verizon lobbied the Pennsylvania legislature and had a law passed and signed that would "prohibit a government or any entity it creates from offering broadband for a fee." [Philadelphia Faces Wi-Fi Woes PC World 11/23/04]
This year, even the big guns of the right-wing are being leveled at the program.
Last month the Heartland Institute, which has ties to the American Enterprise Institute and the Heritage Foundation, issued a paper on Why Muni Wi-Fi Is a False Hope (02/01/05). This largely argues that because prior attempts at wired networks failed and that gosh, it’s going to cost $75-150 to set up so they can’t afford it anyhow (never mind how much more it would cost to set up and buy broadband access from Verizon or Comcast), it shouldn’t be done.
A few days ago, the libertarian Cato Institute entered the fray. They’re jaw-boning against the Philadelphia plan now, and will soon release a study attacking it. [Philadelphia aiming to get wired for less 02/17/05]
On c|net, Frank Rizzo argues illogically that because Boston’s "Big Dig" tunnel was a financial disaster, Philadelphia’s wi-fi for the poor will be too.
Why all the fuss and fury from the right?
Because while it will be good for America it will be bad for their business interests. If Philadelphia puts in low cost broadband access, telecom and cable companies won’t be able to maintain their essentially monopolistic high prices.
In the U.S., wireless broadband powered by a type of cellphone technology is planned or already being offered by companies including Verizon Wireless, owned by Verizon Communications Inc. and Vodafone Group PLC. Verizon Wireless’s business-oriented service runs over a beefed-up, "third generation" cellular network using a technology called EV-DO. Users obtain service by slipping a modem card into their laptops. The service is available in about 30 U.S. cities for $79.99 a month, though its speed of data transmission can be slower than that of the Australian systems.
Other U.S. wireless carriers including Sprint Corp. also offer such services in many cities, though their transmission speeds are even slower than Verizon Wireless’s. [Unbound Down Under Wall Street Journal 02/17/05 subscription]
Australia is doing it right.
For one thing, they, unlike America, have a competitive market in telecom. This has resulted in more and better services at a lower cost to consumers.
With their advanced technology, Personal Broadband Australia provides high speed wireless broadband (not wi-fi) that allows Internet access from cars and trains moving at up to 60 miles an hour.
Unwired has turned 770-square-mile Sydney into a broadband hot-spot with 70 base stations and it costs a user only $35 a month.
We really need to allow telecom competition or go back to regulation of phone and cable companies.