Internet Access and Blind Rigidity

Houston’s financially poor neighborhood, Pecan Park, has free wireless Internet access right now. Hurrah! And it is driving “respect for the free market” ignoramuses into convulsions…..as though for-profit companies have made any effort at all to serve poor households.
Will Reed runs the not-for-profit “Technology For All” group here in Houston and, with enthusiastic support of our Mayor, Bill White, has installed a large antenna in the organiation’s offices. It beams the singal directly to the Melcher Branch of the Public Library, about two-thirds of a mile way. Residents within a few hundered yards of either spot can pick up signals now. Within a monthn or two, Reed says, several residents, as well as a YMCA and other organizations, have agreed to install antennas to spread access across the entire neighborhood.
This project has the support also of Rice University, whose engineering students are involved in placement of antennas and testing new and powerful low-cost technologies. They are also documenting how much bandwidth they can push into the network. From Ed Knightly, the Rice Engineer who is leading his students in the installation: “It’s inspiring to see our research get directly into the community.”
Yes, Rep. Phil King, a Republican, has filed a massive telecommunications bill in austin this session that, in part, bans Texas cities from participating in wireless information networks. “In a free-market system, it’s not acceptable to let public government compete with private businesses.”
Further, Bill Gurley, a Silcon Valley-based venture capitalist with Benchmark Capital says of the technologies that “Technology for All” is intalling with the help of Rice University engineering students: “These are very disruptive low-cost technolgies, and its not in the incumbent telecommunication comapnies’best interest to embrace them. ” He continues: “But they can be very beneficial to communities.”
Seems like we have to choose: telecommunications companies or communities. In the best of all possible worlds, these two would be one and the same.
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