Saturday, March 31, 2007

Jefferson Parish WiFi?

A couple of days ago City Business in New Orleans published a short piece saying that the Jefferson Parish Council had:
unanimously agreed to secure a wireless Internet communication network for parish residents from Lake Pontchartrain to Grand Isle...
Wi-Fi will allow residents to turn on their computers at any location within parish lines and immediately be plugged into the Internet.
Jefferson parish is uniquely varied--it stretches from Lake Ponchartrain to the Mississippi to the fresh-water swamps north of Barataria Bay to the classic barrier island of Grand Isle. That covers intensely urban areas that are part of metro New Orleans, large stretches of trackless swamp, and the blue-collar vacation homes on Grand Isle. Covering all that will be a major and varied undertaking.

The council is motivated in part by the communications failures following the storms—taking seriously the example of nearby New Orleans whose wifi system provided the only reliable communications venue in the immediate aftermath of the storm.

Jefferson Parish attempted to attract a public-private ownership deal last year according to an article in the Times-Picayune. That was supposed to mature into proposals by the first of this month and since that idea is no longer being discussed, apparently no viable bids came in. Plans have now shifted to the current model in which the Parish will build the system.

At least part of the reason that battered Jefferson Parish couldn't attract a public-private partnership to defray part of their cost is the (un)Fair Competition Act. That incumbent-protection bill, drafted by the current telecom operators, forbids local governments from offering services at any really useful speed without going through a long, costly, studded with—as Lafayette's case has proved—ugly and baseless lawsuits. That law continues to impose hardships on local governments who really ought to be able to provide crucial services to their communities without interference by out-of-state corporations. I hope Jefferson Parish officials are talking to their legislators.

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