Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Municipal networks and federal apathy in the US

We have seen that access networks in the United States have fallen behind those of many European and Asian nations. There is no federal government effort or planning, and the ISP industry is dominated by telephone and cable companies which were able to defeat Congress' attempt to generate competition in the 1996 Telecommunication Act.

William Kennard, who, as chairman of the United States Federal Communication from 1997-2001 was charged with implementing the Telecommunications Act, stated near the end of his term that “all too often companies work to change the regulations, instead of working to change the market,” and spoke of “regulatory capitalism” in which “companies invest in lawyers, lobbyists and politicians, instead of plant, people and customer service." He went on to remark that regulation is “too often used as a shield, to protect the status quo from new competition - often in the form of smaller, hungrier competitors -- and too infrequently as a sword -- to cut a pathway for new competitors to compete by creating new networks and services.”

In many cases, municpal governments have tried to close the access gap by developing and contracting for Internet access networks. They have a mix of motivations -- use by city employees, narrowing the digital divide, economic stimulation, providing a service to citizens, etc. and a mix of public-private funding and business models.

W2i organizes conferences on municipal networks, and they have compiled a database with 91 case studies. The case studies include an overview, contact information, and presentations on the projects as delivered at W2i conferences.

Muni-Wireless is another excellent source of information on these networks. They also organize conferences, have an excellent blog, and a Web site with sections on technology, applications, initiatives, and other topics.

What are the implications of the US falling behind in access networks?

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