Who Should Control Public Wireless in Minneapolis?

Aaron Neumann writes about the coming Minneapolis Wi-Fi network in the February edition of Southside Pride. Judging from the title, you can see where his sentiments lie: Rybak’s Great Giveaway: The Selling Out of Public Wi-Fi.

I knew Minneapolis had put out an RFP for a WiFi network and had wished for more public involvement but I haven’t paid much attention. Neumann’s piece brought the issue into focus for me and from the sound of it, the city needs to do more research before ceding control to either Earthlink or U.S. Internet, the finalists in the process. In particular, could we create a public/private mix more akin to Philadelphia’s system?

R.T. Rybak, mayor of Minneapolis, has an editorial in the St. Paul Pioneer Press stating why the current wireless plan is really great and he mentions Philadelphia in a way that makes it seem they switched from public to private with their plan. Neumann, in Pride, has a different take on what Philadelphia is doing and recommends that approach for Minneapolis.

I’m a public commons kind of guy which means I would support a publicly owned wireless commons but Minneapolis, according to Neumann, can’t afford the $25 million or so it would cost to build. But if Neumann’s piece is accurate, there was not enough due diligence involved in this whole process. Minneapolis needs to take a step back and consider other alternatives. My city council person, Cam Gordon, is of the same mind and I’ll be contacting him. I will update here as I find out more.

If anyone has a good link to a mainstream media story on the Philly wireless system, I’d appreciate it. (All links are well and good, of course. Some people just feel better reading it out of the NY Times.)

Linking around…
Neumann mentions a report available at The New Rules Project entitled Is A Publicly Owned Information Network for Minneapolis a Wise Public Investment? (PDF). New Rules also has a resource page, Wireless (and Wired) Minneapolis.

In googling around, I found this piece at Daily Review (California San Francisco bay area), Industry proposes ban on free wi-fi Internet access. Quote:

telephone industry official Tuesday urged Congress to bar
government-run wireless Internet services such as the one being
considered by Fremont and other Bay Area cities, saying they compete
unfairly with private companies and stifle innovation.

Couple of points. 1. The Telephone Industry spends lots of money talking to Congress and pushing out ads explaining why public control is bad. That money could be spent on innovation, research, and creating wider Internet access. 2. The Telephone Industry’s record for innovation, at least in the Internet arena, is pretty bad. Public groups have had to drag them to the table to provide better access in major urban areas. Minneapolis itself suffered from a DSL redlining by our major carrier (now Qwest, probably US West back then). (I know I should back up these assertions but I don’t have time right now. Consider me a trusted authority right now and I’ll get back to you.)


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