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Death of Municipal WiFi is great news for press freedom in the future. San Francisco would have proven the point 8/31/07

Posted by Steve Boriss in Uncategorized.
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According to the Wall Street Journal, many municipalities are likely to abandon their plans to blanket their cities with wireless Internet service. Partnering with downsizing EarthLink, these cities would have installed wireless routers every few hundred feet (e.g. on streetlights), in a plan that no longer seems financially viable. Instead, consumer needs for mobile broadband service will more likely be met through technologies using transmissions from cell towers, such as “WiMax.”

This is a very positive development for the promise that someday news will offer a multitude of diverse voices, in sharp contrast to the monolithic, center-left, establishment news of today. Unlike cell tower-based systems, Municipal WiFi puts city governments in the news business — they must divert taxpayer dollars to build the required, extensive physical infrastructure, and authorize use of streetlights and other supporting public assets. Implicitly, these expenditures/authorizations give politicians the power and responsibility to block the transmission of content that might offend any constituency, including the constituency of politicians themselves. Don’t believe government regulation of news outlets makes a difference? Compare the diversity of political speech on regulated broadcast TV news vs. unregulated cable TV news, or between talk radio before and after the 1987 lapse of the FCC’s so-called “Fairness Doctrine.”

As fate would have had it, the dangers to free speech of Municipal WiFi would have become apparent almost immediately in the early installation planned for San Francisco (SF). In August, SF’s Board of Supervisors voted 9-to-1 in favor of a resolution charging talk radio’s Michael Savage with hate speech for saying of hunger-striking students protesting immigration enforcement, “Let them keep fasting, that’ll solve the problem.” Two Supervisors demanded that the radio station remove him, shamelessly ignoring our national taboo against suppressing free speech. All of which proves that whether or not you think talk radio is good for America, politicians will always be the greater danger. (Hat tip: Garry Rains)

Comments»

1. Bill Bowman - 9/1/07

You’re half right on the San Fran Supervisor’s vote. While the count was 9-1, because it was not unanimous, the resolution failed.

And you can’t “charge” someone with hate speech in a resolution. The resolution condemned Savage for the comment.

2. Steve Boriss - 9/1/07

Bill, I guess it’s how you read the sentence. I realized that it did not pass, but the resolution did accuse him of this, and 9 out of 10 voted in favor of it. I’ll concede that I could have written this more clearly, and for simplicity I’d be willing to concede that you may be right on the technicalities of what a “charge” is. But the point I’m making is that our politicians do not have to read past the First Amendment to understand that freedom of speech/press is exactly what they are not supposed to be tampering with, and that this principle is what sets our nation apart. The Founding Fathers understood what happens to individual rights in the hands of elected officials, and the SF Board of Supervisors proved them right. The death of Municipal WiFi will give them one less opportunity to suppress the press.


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