Chicago fights Illinois

Worried that state legislators are going to write the best laws that money can buy and pass an anti-muni telecom bill purportedly authored by the phone company, officials in the City of Chicago are trying to speed approval of a citywide plan to offer public WiFi throughout the city. The Register has a story on it, and here's another. [link no longer available]

Chicago is considering what I recommend, which is a public/private partnership. Chicago will provide access to light poles and other public property for antennas, but a private company will manage the network and sell services. The City will get a franchise fee based on revenue. It's a win/win/win. Consumers get an alternative to DSL (and in many parts of the city, neither DSL nor cable modem service is available), poor neighborhoods get broadband access for the first time, jobs are created in the private sector, and the City gets some income.

The only possible glitch: local governments can't get greedy and turn franchise fees into "revenue enhancement" opportunities. The franchise fee should be based on the real cost to the government of providing right of way, plus a small amount for network expansion. If local government tries to use it instead as a hidden tax (no taxation without representation, right?), it will only hurt the effort.

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