Monday, March 07, 2005

Ban may no longer ban WiFi

Last week, the Houston Chronicle reported that HB 789, the telecommunications deregulation bill filed by Phil King (R-Weatherford), would ban cities from providing free wireless access. The logic behind this provision was to allow greater competition to phone and internet companies, and having municipal governments providing this service free of charge would go against the ideals of the free market.

But as the article explained, many lower income residents of the city have benefited from free wireless:

Melissa Noriega, the acting state representative for the area covered by Technology for All, called the effort to ban municipal participation in wireless Internet efforts "short-sighted," and said she will work to prevent it from becoming law.

Noriega said families that cannot speak fluent English can be transformed by learning to use a computer and crossing the digital divide — they learn how to spell-check, can find translation services online, e-mail family in their home countries, and much more.

"This may be the single biggest step we can take to close the gap between the haves and have-nots," she said.

The City of Austin recently spent millions of dollars installing new wireless across the cities. Many businesses can now provide the service without charge to customer, as evidenced by the signs around town promoting the WiFi.

At recent meetings of the Regulated Industries committee - who's hearing the bill - many citizens (not companies...) have expressed concern over this provision. King has allegedly re-thought this provision and may introduce either a committee substitute or an amendment to allow cities to provide free WiFi at tomorrow's Regulated Industries committee meeting. But we'll just have to wait to see.


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