Tuesday, May 02, 2006

BS and Cox Stand in the Way of Earthlink Investment in Free N.O. WiFi

New Orlean's City Business breaks the general media silence to cover the story of BellSouth/ATT and Cox's opposition to municipal wifi in New Orleans. The wifi network was a rare upbeat note of success and ingenuity in the first days after Katrina. It came back up long before any other means of communications and the city's command and communications relied on it to communicate--Nagin talked to Bush in the initial days on a VOIP over wifi setup cobbled together from equipment "appropriated" from business supply stores and the city's existing security camera network. It's been a source of conflict before, with BellSouth holding the donation of a building to the city's police force ransom to express their displeasure.

The heart of the article is that Earthlink is willing to invest big bucks in expanding and running a free WiFi network for New Orleans. It offers to invest 10 to 15 million over the next year upgrade the telecommunications infrastructure in a city where huge swaths of the city still don't have dialtone. But they're willing to do that only if BellSouth and Cox step out of the way and allow WiFi networks to be exempted from the strictures of the Local Government (un)Fair Competition Act.

BellSouth and Cox?

You guessed it: no way. But to add insult to injury they give excuses that are so transparently silly that you get the feeling that they are treating this as some sort of absurd game.

According to the weekly:
The state Senate is expected to vote Saturday on a bill by two New Orleans senators to allow the city to provide free wireless Internet to the metro area.

But telecommunication companies are crying foul over the possibility of government competing with private companies.
Sounds familiar, no? Sounds familiar, yes. The same ridiculously aggrieved tone is being used against New Orleans that was used in Lafayette:
“Unlike companies, governments can cross-subsidize,” said BellSouth spokesman Merlin Villar. “They can take revenue from another source to maintain low prices if they want to. This is unfair, and this kind of situation was the genesis of the (Louisiana Local Government) Fair Competition Act.”
That's absurd, absurdist, even dadaist in its glowingly painted nonsense. BellSouth/AT&T and Cox draw revenue from 3/4s of the other states in the union to "cross-subsidize" their competition against New Orlean's cobbled-together wifi system that currently operates in two commercial neighborhoods of the city. Cox owns media and newspapers across the country. Do they segregate their profits from cable and newspapers and never fund the one business from the other? Don't be silly. Can you imagine the hysterical objections we'd hear if "the government" so much as hinted they couldn't use their profits to expand whatever business they decided they wanted to get into next? Did BellSouth/ATT buy its way into the cellular business by starving the wireline networks of reinvestment capital and using the profits from telephone ratepayers to buy its way into a business the initially spurned? Damn right they did--and they and countless analysts are proud of it. "Cross-subsidization" between the very different areas of their business is EXACTLY what allowed these multinational corporations to become big enough to piously kick New Orleans when it's down and then justify their behavior with transparently absurd claims like "Unlike companies, governments can cross-subsidize." Shameless.

There's more:

“We don’t want to be obstructionists but there are parts of the Fair Competition Act that are imperative to companies,” said Sharon Kleinpeter, a Cox lobbyist.

Villar said illegal competition is the point of BellSouth’s protest.

“We’re not preventing New Orleans from running WiFi as long as they comply with the law,” Villar said.

Sharon Kleinpeter, Cox lobbyist, (yes, the same we recently heard talking nonsense in Lafayette) and Villar of BellSouth/ATT are happy to cast a surreal aura over the discussion. What they are trying to say is that they'd be happy-happy to let New Orleans have its wifi network if they just complied with their law. And New Orleans could: at the absurdly useless speed of 144 k.... It'd be A-OK, okie dokie with them if the city would invest a bunch in a useless network. ?? --Honestly, there's no need to take these folks seriously--it's like a bunch of bobble-head dolls. You're not supposed to take it seriously; they're just there for distraction.

If you read on down into the story there is some information that's actually useful:
Meffert says Earthlink, an Atlanta-based Internet service provider, has agreed to invest $10 million to $15 million in free wireless equipment over the next year if the bill passes. Earthlink would then be the service provider for the foreseeable future.
The plan in other cities that Earthlink has promised to provide with free wifi has been to support it with advertising. Its not all that new an idea: is the model that supports broadcast TV to this day. I don't see why New Orleans should not be allowed to try.

BellSouth and Cox should be ashamed.

You, on the other hand, ought to let your legislators know that you don't think that letting these corporations stand in the way of New Orlean's maintaining and expanding a successful wifi system as hurricane season bears down is a something they should be doing.

No comments: