The big change on the horizon is the move to enshrine access to a broadband connection as a basic right of citizenship. The slogan is being picked up here and abroad by a collection of interest groups and policymakers who view broadband as just too important to leave anymore to the vagaries of the private sector. “We won’t stop until every San Franciscan has broadband access,” says Chris Vein, the senior technology advisor to San Francisco’s Mayor Gavin Newsom. It’s not only rhetoric. His boss is one of the nation’s most visible proponents of so-called muni Wi-Fi. Because he runs San Francisco, Newsom probably gets more than his fair share of ink. Some think that he also harbors ambitions to one day run for U.S. president–and nothing would look better on his resume than a line about how the city extended affordable broadband access to all its residents.
Newsom recently declared broadband a “fundamental right.”
Ultimately, the question boils down to whether you believe that broadband is so important that it should get treated like a public utility, in the much the same way as water or power. There’s no consensus about that, and it’s doubtful that the issue will be put on the national agenda before the next presidential election. Can the localities take the lead? In this country, there’s nothing to rival the Associazione Nazionale Piccoli Comuni d’Italia, an Italian association of small towns that has adopted a plan to promote the adoption of Wi-Fi and wireless technology. That’s helped even isolated burgs–like the village of Chamois, deep in the Italian Alps–offer wireless access to its residents.