Friday, March 4

WIRELESS INITIATIVES FACE UPHILL FIGHT IN TEXAS AND ELSEWHERE

As if this concern were not alarming enough that the FEC, as a result of the McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform measure, may opt to circumscribe the Internet-based activity of polibloggers and, in the process, violate their First Amendment rights, now this report from the "Houston Chronicle" points to a bill before the Texas legislature, sponsored by Representative Phil King (R-Weatherford), that would ban "Texas cities from participating in wireless information networks."

While some telecommunications companies are denying that they're behind the bill, the "Houston Chronicle" nonetheless reports:

That's not to say they disagree with the wireless provision. SBC Communications, which has more DSL customers in the nation than any other provider, said cities should be allowed to offer wireless Internet access in public places, such as parks and libraries. But they should not directly compete with private enterprises by providing services to residents and businesses, said company spokesman Gene Acuña.

If they do, then we would have some real concerns.


The report continues:

Houston, which also is considering ideas such as putting Internet antennas on parking meters, is not alone in exploring wireless Internet. Philadelphia has said it will offer free, citywide access. Los Angeles and San Francisco also are studying how to do the same thing. In Texas, small towns such as Linden and Granbury have experimented with wireless networks, as have larger cities such as Austin and Corpus Christi.

The catalyst has been an explosion of innovations in technology — from antennas to modem-like devices — that allow personal computers to capture signals from the air. This has driven down costs.

Telecommunications companies have taken notice as cities, nonprofit organizations and startup companies have begun using these technologies to offer free or steeply reduced Internet access, said Bill Gurley, a Silicon Valley-based venture capitalist with Benchmark Capital who closely follows the issue.

Legislators in a dozen states, including Texas, have filed bills to remove competition for telecommunications companies, he said. Most are pending, but an Indiana effort failed, while a similar law in Pennsylvania passed, although it omitted Philadelphia because of that city's existing efforts.

"These are very disruptive, low-cost technologies, and it's not in the incumbent telecommunication companies' best interest to embrace them," Gurley said. "But these are technologies that can be very beneficial to communities."

Are politics and the interests of giant telecommunications' companies conspiring against us, and with Republicans in the forefront?