April 01, 2005

Op-Ed: Burning the Strawman

Earlier this week, the Austin American-Statesman published an op-ed by Phildelphia councilmember Frank Rizzo attacking municipal wireless. Today, they published a response by local U.T. professor Gary Chapman.

Dr. Chapman notes the curious timing of the Philladelphia councilmember's article:

It seems more than coincidental that Rizzo would decide to warn Austin at the same time that the Texas Legislature is deciding whether to pass a bill, House Bill 789, that is strongly supported by the large telecommunications carriers, including SBC and Verizon, the two titans of the telephone business. Verizon, the dominant company in Philadelphia, opposed Philadelphia's municipal wireless plan and eventually helped push through a bill in the Pennsylvania legislature that prohibits any other Pennsylvania city from following Philadelphia's example.

Mr. Rizzo's raises the strawman of massive public works projects as the reason for opposing muni broadband. Dr. Chapman points out that's unfounded:

This is simply not true. No one in Austin has proposed or recommended an "open-ended" or "massive" city-owned network like the plan Rizzo opposed in Philadelphia. The City of Austin has no interest in competing with or displacing the telecommunications companies that serve the region now, such as SBC, Time Warner or Grande Communications. The city not only receives significant revenue from these companies from the lease of rights-of-way, but city officials understand that our economic competitiveness depends on a robust, diverse and competitive market of broadband service providers.

Dr. Chapman makes the important point that muni broadband, while opposed by one specific industry, can greatly benefit Texas industry and citizens.

What Rizzo and other opponents of municipal wireless networks don't understand is that the key to broadband competitiveness in the future is ubiquity the availability of wireless, high-speed connectivity everywhere, literally everywhere, no matter where the service originates or who runs it. The idea that municipal networks will displace or deter private investment is a red herring studies have shown that the availability of broadband attracts more investment. To block any means for rapidly expanding broadband access in Texas will retard the state's potential for growth and turn us into self-crippled laggards.

Read the entire article. (registartion required)

Posted by chip at April 1, 2005 09:13 AM