Metro Wi-Fi: RIP?
October 30, 2009
The story gets really interesting when Comcast enters the fray, first by opposing a ballot measure that authorizes Longmont to act as a broadband service provider (it also owns a fiber network), and then by instigating the establishment of a citizens' group established to oppose efforts by Longmont to leverage their network infrastructure. Both Settles and Fleishman seem to enjoy vilifying incumbent service providers with Settles portraying Comcast as "The Empire" and their attorney as Darth Vader. I can't help but feel some empathy for this point of view, given the abysmal record service providers have in greasing the wheels of government by bankrolling campaigns of politicians and mounting various secret and not-so-secret lobbying efforts to advance their own interests. They provide great case studies for the legalized corruption that is so typical of American public policy deliberations.
Despite my skepticism about the wisdom of running a metro Wi-Fi network, I'm hoping Longmont wins the freedom to make that decision. The notion that government has an unfair advantage in providing essential services to its citizens strikes me as capitalism taken to its worst extreme. In particular, the notion that governments should be prevented from building out essential network infrastructure (e.g., running fiber through established right-of-ways), reflects a warped view that government can do no right and business can do no wrong.
If Longmont wants to run their own metro Wi-Fi network and their local political environment supports such a strategy, why should they be prevented from doing so? Is Comcast really afraid of the competition? In the end, it is likely that Longmont will conclude that other civic priorities (education, public works, parks and recreation, etc.) are worthier endeavors with greater public benefits. Rapid technology evolution and economies of scale argue against municipalities as wireless service providers. As for metro Wi-Fi, I think the future is clear. It's the wrong technology for the job.