Broadband Pits Government Against Corporations

LOS ANGELES – Communities nationwide are grappling over the rights and responsibilities of local governments to provide broadband Internet access to citizens.

At issue is whether a city government should create broadband or wireless systems for free or at low cost in areas already served by telcoms and cable companies. Communities and businesses question whether Internet access is an infrastructure staple or a luxury.

The city of Lafayette, La. will vote in July on whether the claims of BellSouth and Cox Communications are legitimate. The phone and cable companies, respectively, say that the city should not provide broadband access because the region is their territory and they should not have to compete with government.

While the 25 countries comprising the European Union have agreed to become entirely broadband-capable by 2010, 20 states in the U.S. have either decided or are in the process of deciding that future broadband access can only be provided by private industry. California is not one of them.

Thirteen communities in California have broadband and/or wireless access provided for free or at low cost by the government, including Culver City and parts of Los Angeles. Twenty-seven more cities and towns will be on the Internet by 2007.

Philadelphia is the largest city to date to offer broadband to its citizens, with plans to make its 135 square miles a wireless zone for as little as $20 a month. Verizon, which covers Philadelphia, charges $29.99 a month for a similar service. Verizon, which recently dropped free Wi-Fi service in Manhattan, claimed that the access points it had installed in hundreds of phone booths were poorly utilized.

As broadband is becoming more and more popular, 14 states now have a “Naked DSL” option, which allows companies to provide broadband access through DSL or cable modems without the requirement of a traditional landline.