Government Wi-Fi fails, so let’s have some more: NYT

posted at 11:33 am on March 29, 2008 by Ed Morrissey

Rarely has the New York Times editorial board sounded as clueless as it does today on the subject of municipal wireless Internet access. After acknowledging that municipal wi-fi turned into a more expensive boondoggle than anyone predicted, they demand its continuance — and that Earthlink, among others, offer it for a loss. In doing so, they implicitly argue that personal Internet access has become a right and that government must provide the solution:

For a while, many American cities, caught up in a tide of technological and fiscal optimism, promised to try to make Internet coverage available to all by making it citywide, wireless and low-cost or even free.

That has proved to be harder than it seemed at first. EarthLink, an Internet provider that was partnering with Philadelphia, has pulled out of a much-heralded project there, and other service providers are rethinking similar projects.

EarthLink is calling it a change in strategic direction. What that phrase means, simply, is where’s the profit? It is a reasonable question. But for the people who have been left without Internet service as municipal wireless plans have collapsed, there are no reasonable answers, only an all-too-familiar barrier between them and the information age.

The neighborhoods that most need low-cost, public wireless service now find themselves largely dependent on Internet access through public libraries. This may not sound like a terrible thing, but have you seen what’s happened to the budgets — and the operating hours — of public libraries?

Well, excuse me, but when did Internet access companies become public utilities? Earthlink offers its services for a profit, as does every other access portal. If it can’t find a profit, then it won’t operate in those markets. Arguing that Earthlink should follow through on poorly-conceived projects without regard to profit means that they will eventually go out of business altogether, or will have to hike prices to all of their other customers to subsidize an illegitimate government mandate. If Philadelphia wants to provide no-cost Internet access, they don’t need Earthlink to do it; they can pay for it themselves, with tax dollars, and face the wrath of their electorate for the costly nature of the enterprise.

The Times whines about access times for Internet users at public libraries. However, that service gets provided for free. It’s a better option than no access at all, and it costs the end users nothing. That doesn’t seem unreasonable, especially since it’s not exactly like food, water, and shelter. People can and do live without constant access to the Internet, and those that can’t make investments in Internet services.

There’s something else strange about this demand for Internet service to poor neighborhoods. It assumes that the poor can afford computers at home to access the municipal Wi-Fi. It’s probably true, as Census Bureau statistics show that over 40% of the bottom quintile of American households own their homes, over 97% have televisions (and over half have two or more), three-quarters own at least one car, and 62% have cable or satellite service. Over a quarter of the poor households use cell phones, too. Given that, even the bottoom quintile of American homes could probably afford their own Internet access if they valued it over some of the other amenities, as well as affording a computer with which to use it.

The government has no requirement to supply free wi-fi to its citizens, rich, poor, or in the middle. It certainly has no business demanding that the private sector lose money or offer its services for free in order to deliver on foolish promises of Internet Nirvana. Free Internet access already exists, and if it’s not as convenient as some would like, people have a wide variety of other options — thanks to the free-market system the Times criticizes today.


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Do ‘poor inner city neighborhoods’ have cable TV?

rockhauler on March 29, 2008 at 11:47 AM

What do you all want to bet that hte Times doesn’t use this free taxpayer paid Wi-Fi but instead pays for its own expensive internet service?

Defector01 on March 29, 2008 at 11:50 AM

I’m getting kind of hungry. Do you think the government could maybe bring me a free pizza?

nosliwelyk on March 29, 2008 at 11:50 AM

Poverty ain’t like it used to be.

Nor is poverty in the United States what the Democrats fantasize it to be. The most indifferent, plutocratic Republican has better grasp on poverty in the United States than does that Democrat who wants to “help”.

thuja on March 29, 2008 at 11:57 AM

Does The NYT provide it’s paper for free in underprivileged/low income areas? If not, they should shut up.

TinMan13 on March 29, 2008 at 11:58 AM

This story reminds me of the poor family in New Orleans; you know the one that the MSM dragged out in front of us representing the typical victim of Bush’s attack on black families following Katrina. Problem with the story was that some bloggers investigated this family and managed to get pictures from inside showing a huge flat screen, huge stereo system, and many other privileges that were brought into their homes by way of government handouts.

Keemo on March 29, 2008 at 12:00 PM

All your hotspots are belong to us.

- The Cat

MirCat on March 29, 2008 at 12:07 PM

You Rethuglicans are simply heartless.
Don’t you realize that there are impoverished families in Amerikkka who are still struggling to provide dial-up connections?
Not that you’d care, you right-wing haters.

billy on March 29, 2008 at 12:28 PM

Keemo This story reminds me of the poor family in New Orleans, you know the one the msn dragged out in front of us

Right-on

2theright on March 29, 2008 at 12:44 PM

Do ‘poor inner city neighborhoods’ have cable TV?

rockhauler on March 29, 2008 at 11:47 AM

My guess is Yes, as when a city awards a cable contract it is typically to wire the entire city.

Contrast that to my situation in central New Hampshire, where I live less than a mile from an Interstate highway and two other major east west and north-south arteries. The average home value in my neighborhood is $300,000 and yet we have never been wired for cable TV and never will be, at least not by a “traditional” cable company. The only way we will ever possibly get cable is if the phone company brings it in.

Explanation? We have a minimum lot size in my part of town of 10 acres. It’s not economically feasible to wire a neighborhood that only has 5 houses per mile of road.

Thank goodness for DirecTV.

Del Dolemonte on March 29, 2008 at 12:53 PM

You know… I blame these free wifi hotspots for at least 10% of the spam I get each day…

Canadian Imperialist Running Dog on March 29, 2008 at 12:54 PM

John Edwards thinks internet access should be a right.

And that gun ownership should be a privilege.

Huh.

MadisonConservative on March 29, 2008 at 1:00 PM

Great. Give em free internet service so they can watch girl fights on Youtube all day.

THE CHOSEN ONE on March 29, 2008 at 1:06 PM

Well, I think somebody missed the below linked article. Tempe, AZ is the first city to have public wi-fi border to border, and guess what? John McCain is on record as wanting to expand it to the entire country. I’m not sure if he’s talking about the USA or Mexico.

U.S. Sen. John McCain sent his regards in the form of a video message to the crowd of about 80 who gathered at the Town Lake’s Tempe Beach Park.

He said he is advocating for Internet access for all in Congress, and he’ll use Tempe as the “best example in America” of public and private sectors working together to make wireless Internet available.

“You are looking at the future of Internet in America today in beautiful Tempe, Arizona,” McCain said in the recording.

http://www.azcentral.com/arizonarepublic/local/articles/1129ev-wifi29.html

Log on March 29, 2008 at 1:17 PM

Log on March 29, 2008 at 1:17 PM

Your point being?

dmann on March 29, 2008 at 1:34 PM

cable TV

It is interesting to me that, whenever something is proposed to help subsidize the poor, opponents bring out the argument that “They pay for cable TV, so they can afford X if they just drop that.” It’s not an invalid point, but it seems a bit overused. One might wonder, too, how much the average poor person pays for cable TV. If a household with seven people shares the minimal package, it might cost $2 per person per month. (If you think that’s not true, then you’ve never asked your cable company about their minimal package.) If the household plugs into a line that hasn’t be deactivated, it can often be free. There’s also the question of why they have it. If one lives in an area with no reception, cable TV is probably a more affordable means of placating a child than anything else. Not that it’s the healthiest, but sometimes it might be the best of a lot of bad choices.

A more important question here is why ubiquity is needed. Wi-Fi technology was not designed to cover a town and it certainly wasn’t designed to be used by people in a building outside of where the hot-spot is. So why not have outside hot-spots in public places like parks and such, and encourage folks to buy ultra-cheap laptops instead of the latest desktop? If the answer is that parks aren’t safe, then, well, there’s a more serious problem than Wi-Fi that needs addressing.

Another thing that could be done is to have places outside of public libraries that are comfortable to sit in one the library closes. Usually folks can pick up library Wi-Fi just outside the building, even during off hours.

calbear on March 29, 2008 at 1:40 PM

Our city provided (with tax dollars) laptops to all the “deprived” neighborhood elementary schools to supposedly help them learn. (Learning English might help too, but that’s another story.) Shortly thereafter, gangbangers broke into the school and stole them all.

PattyJ on March 29, 2008 at 1:45 PM

Socialism, communism, socialism……….

Johan Klaus on March 29, 2008 at 1:54 PM

Perhaps She was talking directly to Earthlink when She said “I’m going to have to take some things away from you for the public good.”

eeyore on March 29, 2008 at 2:03 PM

Laptops are the most abused computers on the planet. It is the rare one that lives to get resold to where a truly poor person can afford it, especially on the PC side of things. Even so, you’re lucky if it will manage 802.11g, never mind the move of newer routers to 802.11n.

Sekhmet on March 29, 2008 at 2:03 PM

I’m getting kind of hungry. Do you think the government could maybe bring me a free pizza?

nosliwelyk on March 29, 2008 at 11:50 AM

With bacon, ground beef, green peppers & black olives. Oh, and a 12 pack of Coke Classic.

Dave from Flint on March 29, 2008 at 2:04 PM

The New York Times should be offered free of charge and it shouldn’t cost anything to advertise in it either.

And then I want a pink unicorn and a money bush.

crosspatch on March 29, 2008 at 2:18 PM

Reading about Earthlink bowing out of the project reminded me of the classic joke about the two guys from Arkansas selling bales of hay.. They load up and buy the hay for $3.00 a bale.. when they go back home, they sell the hay for $2.50..
At the end of the day, one guy asks the other about why they were short..
The other guy said, “Dunno, maybe we need a bigger truck.”

DaveC on March 29, 2008 at 2:26 PM

Chicago tried it briefly about a year ago and it quietly dissappeared. I logged on to my home wireless network and came up with the Chicago connection. I think the real problem is that NYT is demanding that Earthlink divest itself of paying customers who already have their service the old fashioned way.

BTW, I also get the Starbucks connection from a block away. I suppose I could use their portal if I wanted to. Maybe Starbucks should be forced into the poor neighborhoods to offer their connections. You could get a Mad Dog Frappucino while you were browsing the porn sites.

JAW on March 29, 2008 at 2:49 PM

I’ve seen he Earthlink base sations all around the city, and the odd thing is, there are usually defunct Metricom Wifi sites on the very same buildings. (see hay bale story in comment above)

Sprint is also adding WiMax service to its network in Philadelphia. The City has no business being mixed up in this.

forest on March 29, 2008 at 3:36 PM

I’m just wondering how all those folks in low cost neighborhoods that the Times wants to have free WiFi can afford the computer and WiFi router? Shouldn’t they be spending their small amounts of free government money on clothing appropriate for a job interview, as well as feeding the family?

William Teach on March 29, 2008 at 3:48 PM

more important question here is why ubiquity is needed. Wi-Fi technology was not designed to cover a town and it certainly wasn’t designed to be used by people in a building outside of where the hot-spot is. So why not have outside hot-spots in public places like parks and such, and encourage folks to buy ultra-cheap laptops instead of the latest desktop? If the answer is that parks aren’t safe, then, well, there’s a more serious problem than Wi-Fi that needs addressing.

calbear on March 29, 2008 at 1:40 PM

Anyone think this guy hasn’t bought a pc lately?

opusrex on March 29, 2008 at 3:49 PM

“Rarely has the New York Times editorial board sounded as clueless as it does today on the subject of municipal wireless Internet access.”

Surely you jest. Apparently, the New York Times Editorial Board observes the divide between opinion and news by refusing to read their own newspaper.

JM Hanes on March 29, 2008 at 4:45 PM

Hey, in Houston, our libtard mayor is putting something like 10 or 15 city wifi hot spots in the poorest part of town. You know what that means, somebody is going to have to steal a lot of laptops. Maybe the poorest sections of town don’t need wifi…how about jobs and an incentive to go get those jobs.

rgranger on March 29, 2008 at 5:32 PM

Every library I have been to in the last 3 years has free wi-fi.

That’s where all the books are.

Come on, you free-loading liberal dumbasses. You might just get curious and learn something.

Black Adam on March 29, 2008 at 6:34 PM

This story reminds me of the poor family in New Orleans; you know the one that the MSM dragged out in front of us representing the typical victim of Bush’s attack on black families following Katrina. Problem with the story was that some bloggers investigated this family and managed to get pictures from inside showing a huge flat screen, huge stereo system, and many other privileges that were brought into their homes by way of government handouts.

Keemo on March 29, 2008 at 12:00 PM

That is exactly the first thing I thought, too. She said “Of course I’m grateful for a place to live, but it’s just pitiful what people give you.”
My blood still boils.

shibumiglass on March 29, 2008 at 7:08 PM

What is the security level of such a “government” wifi system?

And what if they go on strike?

Redundancy?

Let the lurking profits lure the market in.

Wifi is going plenty fast as it is (it’s promoters just plundered the analog tv frequency range from the public without a shot being fired. And almost unmentioned. Thereby forcing a crucial emergency bandwidth for visual communication into technical oblivion).

Boosting wifi blindly tends to produce such fantasy collides with reality blunders.

Betamax Rex.

profitsbeard on March 29, 2008 at 10:02 PM

can’t find the link now, but Google is launching a drive to open up the white space in the old TV spectrum (the one that was ditched and sold off) to make nationwide Wi-Fi (albeit a slower speed than most everyone pays for) that would be free and supported by targeted LOCAL advertising.
Not a horrible solution.
Basically, if you want it for free, you are going to put up with ads from your local pizza joint popping up every now and then.

MannyT-vA on March 30, 2008 at 9:25 AM

Do they have phone lines? What’s wrong with dial-up? I know cable is better but dial-up isn’t that bad. You will probably download and watch less porn but paying bills online and using mapquest etc works just fine.

freevillage on March 30, 2008 at 9:45 AM

LOL! Always like it when some liberal starts screaming about things that ‘should be FREE’. A 17 year-old’s letter to the editor stated that he’d seen “Sicko” and that he believes health care should be ‘free’. Someone else once wrote that ‘cable service’ should be ‘free’. Garbage pickup, “free”. As my father used to tell me in my idealistic youth; “TANSTAAFL” (There ain’t no such thing as a free lunch). Took a couple of years and earning a paycheck with numerous ‘deductions’ before I learned where the money came from to pay for “free” things.

GarandFan on March 30, 2008 at 7:57 PM