They both censor the Internet. Culver City, Calif., is the first operator of a municipal wireless network to filter legal content and applications that the city finds objectionable. The city has installed filtering software that blocks access to legal adult sites and, more significantly, prevents peer-to-peer file sharing. Ironically, municipal networks are often touted by activists who say commercial service providers are more likely to interfere with free access to Web content. Let the record show that the first U.S. ISP to censor Internet access was a muni network. Plus, the guidelines for filtering are purely arbitrary. It is not as if they are blocking illegal sites. Instead, the city says it seeks to block “problematic content.” That could just as well as include sites like www.reason.org, which routinely criticize municipal broadband. The decision to block porn sites might score a few points with the “family values” set, but Culver City’s decision to blcok P2P sites, which include Bitorrent, LimeWire and KaZaa, just to name three, is indefensible and more than likely, politically motivated. We can’t help but notice that Culver City is home to three major movie studios, who, in typical Hollywood fashion, have been railing against P2P while seeking ways to commercially exploit it. The Motion Picture Association of America and Culver City even collaborated on a press release praising the filtering decision. As the studios no doubt draw a lot of water in Culver City, it’s easy to see why the local officials would easily yield to the slightest pressure to censor P2P, at least until the studios start buying up the sites. Of course, for the other 40,000 taxpaying residents who are footing the bill for the municipal operation, the town has made the service that much less competitive or desirable. This is another reason why muni networks are a bad idea.
Steven Titch served as a policy analyst at Reason Foundation from 2004 to 2013.