In a textbook case of how a politician can get caught up in the sizzle and hype of the Internet, Melissa Noriega, a city council candidate in Houston, declared Internet access was more important than a college degree. “I think every family in Houston needs a computer. That’s really what the difference is now. It’s not a college degree. It’s not any of that. It’s whether you are wired, and whether you can get online and figure out your way,” Noriega told KRIV, the local Fox TV affiliate. Noriega, who garnered 47 percent of the vote in Saturday’s municipal elections, qualified for a run-off against Roy Morales, who won 19 percent. The two are running for the council seat vacated by Shelley Sekula-Gibbs, who stepped down last fall to make an unsuccessful Congressional bid. Noriega was speaking in support of a public-private municipal wireless project underway in HoustonÃ¢â?¬â??which stands to rank second largest after LA. While it does not stand to be as big a risk to taxpayers as some other projects, the political motive here, as well as in other cities, tends to stem from misplaced panic that without a government-mandated program for cheap broadband, cities will be left behind. Admittedly, Noriega’s “chuck-school-and-get-online” is the most extreme example of the breathless hyperbole that has surrounded municipal broadband, but it shows how civic leaders have a tendency to mislay perspective the moment someone says “broadband.”
Steven Titch served as a policy analyst at Reason Foundation from 2004 to 2013.