Out of Control Policy Blog

The Unpleasant Sight of Sausage Being Made

A nasty spat has developed around Toledo, Ohio's proposal to build a citywide broadband wireless system in partnership with MetroFi. The city council this week voted to withhold approval until it understood how the city planned to come up with the $2.16 million needed to fund it.

Bare-knuckled politics served as a backdrop to the proceedings, as Patsy Scott, director of Toledo's Department of Information Services, quit, and was then apparently fired, in what appears to have been a tussle with Mayor Carty Finkbeiner. According to the Toledo Blade, Scott said she chose to resign after the mayor told her to threaten the Toledo-Lucas County Public Library's levy if library director Clyde Scoles refused to endorse the muni WiFi project at this week's council meeting. As an aside, the library system already had invested in its own WiFi network and offers free access at it libraries. Four hours after submitting her notice of resignation, Scott said she was dismissed from her job.

Finkbeiner denied making the threats against the library levy. Complicating the matter further is the fact that the Toledo Blade is a sister subsidiary of Buckeye CableSystem, which was a losing bidder for the Toledo muni contract. Both the Blade and Buckeye are owned by Block Communications.

Propensity toward civic infighting serves as another argument against municipal wireless. Toledo's experience is reflected on a larger scale in San Francisco, where politics is the motivation on the part of several members of the Board of Supervisors to scuttle Mayor Gavin Newsom's muni plan. Despite their high dudgeon about lack of broadband and digital divide, city officials know full well that muni wireless is an expensive vanity project–and they treat it as such. In Toledo, look no further than Scott, who as city IT director was a major asset to the project, yet ended up as a casualty. Readers can imagine how this sort of pettiness goes over at MetroFi, which is trying to run a business.

It bears repeating: government can't do broadband. Toledo is a great example of how the nature of politics runs counter to intelligent planning and operations. One way or another, muni systems can't help but fail. It's in the genes.


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