Software Nerd

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Municipal Wireless R.I.P.

Free or cheap "municipal Internet" schemes are dying all over the country. Over the last year, computer magazines have reported the failures; today, the NY Times picked up the story. Good riddance!

Some companies (Earth-link in particular) wanted to place wifi routers on city utility-poles. Cities saw an opportunity. Without paying out cash, they could trade this new-found asset (access to utility poles) for a certain number of discounted or free connections. The city would be paying (in the form of access-rights) and tax-payers would never know!

The plans ran into one big problem: paid alternatives are cheap!

High-speed access prices are low, and access is already widespread. Voters aren't clamouring for a city-provided Internet connection at $15 a month, when their current high-speed DSL is under $30. Not enough people were signing up for the few projects that had started to go live.

As for the wireless part, there was never even a plausible socialist argument for giving poor people wireless access wherever they roamed! For those people who want it, Verizon and others do a good job. For about $40 a month, one can be connected anywhere your cell-phone will work.


  • $40 a month might be a big expense for some people. Obviously, you are not poor.

    Is there no valid argument for a city to create complete free wireless access for ALL people, poor or not? Wouldn't the convenience be a valuable public good?

    I'm not saying this is the best technical and economic solution, but it doesn't strike me as silly as you make it out to be.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 8:57 AM  

  • It is "silly" in the sense that it is nowhere even close to being something anyone would consider a necessity. For instance, I spend a lot of time on the net, and yet I do not find enough value in wireless access to make it worth paying $40 a month.

    My high-speed DSL costs $24 a month, and a $20 DSL options is also available. I know people who still use dial-up lines, at around $10 a month.

    More fundamentally, I don't believe in forcibly taxing other people to support my personal notion of what is a "valuable public good".

    By Blogger softwareNerd, at 6:31 PM  

  • Well, your first point is well taken. I'm not sure it's worth the time or money to enable free Web surfing by all at any time. Maybe more terminals in libraries would be better...

    On your second point, all taxes are assessed "forcibly." Unless you are against any taxation for any use, your argument doesn't hold water. You just don't want taxes for things you don't like, which is why we have taxation with representation, however imperfect.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 8:35 AM  

  • Good point: you want government to spend on what you want and I want it to spend on what I want.

    But this raises a more fundamental question: what is the purpose of government?

    My post had taken the answer to that question for granted, simply because the few people who read this blog agree with me that the purpose of government is to protect individual rights.

    Now, for the moment, assume that this is the objectively derived purpose of government. Then, to take one example, millions can agree that we ought to find a cure for cancer, and can donate money to an organization that tries to find such a cure. However, something like that is not a purpose of government.

    That is to say: even if all 200 million U.S. voters say that the government should spend tax money on finding a cure for cancer, this is still outside the purposes of government as specified above. Even if every tax payer agrees, and the government spends their money thus, with the consent of all, that does not make it a legitimate function of government. What's happening is that government is fulfilling a non-governmental function. Of course, if all agree, it is moot to claim they're being wronged. However, if one solitary voter disagrees, and his tax-money is spent on a non-governmental purpose, then he is being wronged.

    In a way this shifts the debate. Instead of debating: should government pay for item-X (e.g. Wi-Fi), we are asking a more general question: what kinds of things should government pay for? i.e. what is the legitimate, objective purpose of government.

    To answer this question, one must go to fundamentals. Government is a man-made institution. It is not just an organizations, it is a specific type of organization. So, ask yourself: why do we have government in the first place?

    Various "common purposes" are met by people forming organizations. People join up to develop free software with other enthusiasts. Neighborhood organizations are formed to take care of some commonm areas. People form charities to help the needy.

    Governments have a unique purpose: protecting one individual from the predation of another. Any governmental action outside of such a purpose is a tyranny of the majority. What it means is that the majority are not happy setting up a voluntary organization to acheive that other (non-governmental) end, but forcibly want to make the minority (even a minority of one) "contribute" too. When this happens, government becomes the predator, instead of being the protector.

    P.S. I don't intend this comment to be a treatise on the subject, merely to indicate what assumption was underlying my post.

    By Blogger softwareNerd, at 5:58 AM  

  • Governments have a unique purpose: protecting one individual from the predation of another.

    I figured this was your point of view - thanks for confirming. I completely disagree. You can visit my blog and look at the posts under tags for Ayn Rand, Politics, etc. and see some of why.

    Fundamentally, I think that your assertion about the purpose of government lacks any basis other than your particular bias, so why should others be forced to live by it? It is not "objectively" demonstrated, unless you meant with a big '0', as in Ayn Rand's point of view.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 11:55 AM  

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