Imagine if Borders and Barnes & Noble, claiming it was killing their book sales, asked lawmakers to ban cities from building libraries. The legislators would laugh them out of the State House. Yet the same thing is happening right now with respect to Wi-Fi and other municipal broadband plans, and it is being taken all too seriously. In fact, although it is almost universally acknowledged that broadband access is essential to economic growth and education, phone and cable companies are lobbying furiously to prohibit municipalities from providing free or discounted broadband to their residents.
Policy In-Depth: Debate over Muni Broadband Competing With Private Sector
On June 1, the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation held an oxford-style debate over the proposition: "Governments should neither subsidize nor operate broadband networks to compete with commercial ones."
Jim Baller and I spoke against the proposition while Rob Atkinson and Jeff Eisenach defended it during the 2 hour, 15 minute session. I was unable to be in DC and thus participated by the magic of modern telecommunications.
This is a long but valuable and unique discussion. We left talking points behind, actually responded to the points raised by the other side, and presented both sides of this debate in a reasonable manner. In short, this is exactly the kind of discussion we would elected officials to consider before legislating on the matter. But it very rarely happens -- nothing even remotely close to it occured in North Carolina when Time Warner Cable pushed its bill through the Legislature to enact a de facto ban on muni networks in the state.
You can watch it here.