The muni loonies in Minneapolis have succeeded where thousands of incumbent dollars and hundreds of hours of incumbent lobbying have failed. They’ve derailed a municipal wireless system just as it was getting set to award a contract. Bowing to pressure from the misnamed Institute for Local Self-Reliance (Institute for Local Government Reliance is more appropriate), the Minneapolis City Council’s Ways and Means Committee voted to delay selection of a commercial wireless partner in order to reconsider whether the city itself should fund, operate and manage a citywide network. The motion is expected to go before the Council’s Committee of the Whole today. ILSR is opposed to Minneapolis plan to contract with a commercial wireless service provider who would take responsibility for the estimated $25 million network in return for an end-user contract from the city as well as discounted access to city right-of-way. ILSR makes its case by claiming that Philadelphia is a municipal-owned system, when, in fact, it is not. EarthLink will own the network. Further clouding the issue, ILSR cites the example of Corpus Christi, Tex. While that city indeed plans to own its municipal wireless network, it is designed for city IT applications and will not support retail Internet access, as the Minneapolis and Philadelphia networks plan to. Minneapolis has already gone through the lengthy RFP process, naming EarthLink and U.S. Internet, a Twin Cities-based service provider, as finalists. If ILSR gets its way, the project will likely return to square one. As noted in earlier entries, the backlash from one-time supporters of muni broadband, just as they appear to have gained an upper hand at City Hall, demonstrates they are far more anti-business than pro-broadband. Indeed, in Minneapolis, their goal seems to be government-run broadband or no broadband at all.
Steven Titch served as a policy analyst at Reason Foundation from 2004 to 2013.