Every city and town of any substantial size had a great idea last year, or the year before.

“Let’s build a wireless-Internet network and offer it to residents for free, or at a cheap price.”

I have always thought it is a terrible idea.

I can see no reason that cities’ governments should be involved in this, at all.

A couple reasons:

1) Most people in large cities can buy Internet access through their cable company, phone company, satellite company, or from AOL or Earthlink. Most people have access to the Internet at work, at school, and/or at their local libraries.

2) Technology is moving quickly. Who knows what will happen next? Why invest money, time, and effort (even if it’s someone else’s $) toward this endeavor?

3) Why should cities do the work of private industry?

4) Private industry can often do a better job than government, for less money.

Here are some choice quotes from an article I just read about problems that municipalities are having getting their wi-fi projects up and running.

* “They are the monorails of this decade: the wrong technology, totally overpromised and completely undelivered,” said Anthony Townsend, research director at the Institute for the Future, a think tank.

* “I will be surprised if the majority of these are successful and they do not prove to be drains on taxpayers’ money,” said Michael Balhoff, former telecom equity analyst with Legg Mason Inc. “The government is getting into hotly contested services.”

* [Just as the city of Lompoc] committed to the network, cable and telephone companies arrived with better equipment and service, undercutting the city’s offerings.

“It seemed like we announced we were going to do this and that and the next day we got trucks from the providers doing this and that, when we’ve been asking for years and nothing ever happened,” Lompoc Mayor Dick DeWees said.

Cities struggle with wireless Internet – By Anick Jesdanun, Associated Press

Can you e-mail me now? – Boston Globe editorial, March 15, 2007

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