The irony is rich. It appears the municipal wireless advocates are poised to succeed where their foesÃ¢â?¬â??the largest and most deep-pocketed incumbent phone companies failedÃ¢â?¬â??stopping a major municipal wireless initiative. The San Francisco Board of Supervisors, reports Red Herring, is sharply divided over whether to approve a plan to allow EarthLink and Google to build a citywide municipal system in partnership with the city. It is uncertain whether the project, which includes a tier of free wireless service, has the six votes needed for approval. Red Herring says Don Berryman, head of EarthLink’s municipal networks unit, counts four to five supervisors in favor of the proposition, three against, and three to four Iwho are still undecided. The vote is scheduled for next month. Oddly, the point of contention is not over whether the city should be dabbling in a competitive market, which has been the focus of debate elsewhere. On the contrary, the protest is all from the extreme Left, which opposes the idea of someone attempting to make a profit from offering free wireless service. Dissenting supervisors who think that turning the financing, operations and marketing over to two experienced corporations, one of whom, EarthLink, is setting up wireless systems in cities all over the country, is just wrong, wrong, wrong. It would be far, far better, they say, if the city of San Francisco risk millions of taxpayer dollars to own, operate and manage a wireless system in a city that already has more hotspots than any other in the U.S., not to mention one of the highest rates of Internet connectivity.
Steven Titch served as a policy analyst at Reason Foundation from 2004 to 2013.