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August 21, 2005
Wi-Fi Municipalities: Bonding With Locals

News that Intel has agreements to deploy Wi-Fi with governments in 13 countries, coupled with (a)burgeoning interest among US municipalities for such deals and (b)rejection of attempts by telephone companies to erect legal barriers to same, all augur a fundamental shift in the structure of teleccom in America, should municipal deployments suceed. (If they fail, everything returns to SQA.) Telephone companies committed the political error of trying to stop deployment outright, arguing that the umpire (regulator) must not also play in the game (of providing local phone service). The argument has merit, but companies whose reputation for customer service is now at rough parity with that for the airlines are in no position to stop politically popular ideas. Better to argue for fair rules of the road. More important, however, is the log-term question: If municipalities provide local basic connectivity, what rationale remains for imposing "last resort" universal service responsibility on local telephone companies? Answer: None whatsoever. Do not expect a shift to take place until substantial facts on the ground change. Just as it took America falling to 15th in broadband deployment to awaken the FCC re the need for deregulation of DSL, it will take massive number shifts in local deployment to make ending universal service obligations possible. It could, however, eventually happen.

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