Tuesday, October 04, 2005

San Francisco Mayor Sees
Wireless Service As Basic Right

And I agree with him. First, the article from Reuters:

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom said on Monday he considered wireless Internet access a fundamental right of all citizens.

Newsom told a news conference that he was bracing for a battle with telephone and cable interests, along with state and U.S. regulators, whom he said were looking to derail a campaign by cities to offer free or low-cost municipal Wi-Fi services.

Wi-Fi is a short-range wireless technology that is now built into most laptop computers and is increasingly offered on handheld computers and certain mobile phones. Local officials are mulling plans to blanket every nook and cranny of this hilly city of 750,000 residents with Wi-Fi access.

"This is inevitable -- Wi-Fi. It is long overdue," Newsom told a news conference at San Francisco's City Hall. "It is to me a fundamental right to have access universally to information," he said.

Making wireless access affordable to the entire population of San Francisco was a vital step to differentiating the city in order to make it more economically competitive on a state, national and global level, Newsom said.

But the mayor also singled out the power of Wi-Fi as an alternative network to provide emergency information to all citizens in the event a natural disaster such as an earthquake were to strike the city and knock out other communications.


Wireless access can be seen a basic right that should be available not just to business professionals but also lower-income citizens. "This is a civil rights issue as much as anything else," Newsom said.

The mayor said he had no exact figures on how much it would cost to build a wireless umbrella to cover the entire city, but cited general estimates that have ranged from $8 million to $16 million for antennas and other gear.

"My intent is to have the taxpayers pay little or nothing," Newsom said of the municipal wireless project.

Chris Vein, director of telecommunication and information services for the City of San Francisco declined to comment on whether any of the participants planned to use an alternative technology known as WiMAX, which provides higher speed wireless service using fewer antennas.

One company, which Vein declined to name, has proposed an advertising-supported plan for free wireless access, he said. That company appeared to be Google. A Google spokesman on Friday had confirmed that its Wi-Fi access proposal could be funded through online advertising.

Yes, Google. Yesterday, Atlas Shrugs left a very interesting comment about Google on an LGF thread:

Today's WSJ eye-opener about Google implies that free Internet phone service will put the Baby Bells out of business. Maybe so, but the real significance is not Google's offering of voice -- that's old hat by now -- but its use of free wireless broadband to get the service into the marketplace while bypassing a monstrous regulatory slowdown in Washington over whether to apply old telephone rules or old cable rules to new broadband services.

What Google really brings to the table are massive, massive server farms, and the knowhow to deliver individually customized data accurately, instantly and securely. Servers "serve" information. Don't think just Web pages or voice calls or video but all the information and data needed for the fully digital lifestyle. Microsoft, the cable companies, the Bells and others are converging on this business model. The phone companies are trying to get their feet wet with IPTV -- Internet television -- a largely "on demand" service, dispatching individualized content to millions of customers' TVs.

But these efforts are bogged down in a political battle over rewriting the 1996 telecom act, in theory to deregulate all forms of broadband. That sounds straightforward, but even in the GOP-dominated House, the leading bill, pushed by Rep. Joe Barton, has Verizon hopping mad -- because it seems to distinguish what kind of cable set-top box is deserving of deregulation and what kind isn't. Tom Tauke, the former Iowa Republican Congressman who now serves a chief deregulation lobbyist for Verizon, complained that, in typical fashion, "Before we've entered the horse race, some on Capitol Hill are adding weight to the horse and adding length the track."

Google, by offering to provide free wireless to grateful municipalities, hopes to be far down the road in providing the new services while the traditional rivals are still fighting on Capitol Hill. Indeed, Google has been quietly buying up unused Internet backbone capacity for months, making clear that it has much bigger things in mind than just delivering voice calls.

Of course, this brings up the specter of a Big Brother-like Google controlling the stream of all information. However, as long as Google is on contract with the cities to provide the services, then there is still the element of Democratic/Capitalist choice. Simply put, Google will have to provide what the people want or the people can vote not to renew their contract.

The idea that Google could monopolize wireless service is absurd. While it is true that currently Google has a lot of cash to spend, the reality is the cost of extablisihing a wireless network across a city is only going to come down in the future. In other words, eventually small groups of people will be able to establish their own wireless networks. Some people believe wireless routers will become so small in the future that they will be like dust which can be scattered across the city from the air. Some believe wireless networks will be seen as temporary and constantly renewable.

The reason I agree with Mayor Newsom that wirless internet access is a basic human right is not because of what wireless is now, but because of what it is going to become in the future. The future is going to be unlike the world we live in today. The human brain itself will be enabled with chips which will allow them to think faster. These chips will send and receive information via wireless. The human brain will meld with the internet. In other words people will have at their disposal the sum total of all human knowledge at all times, and they will be able to process this information at speeds which we can not even begin to coneive today.

In such a world any human being denied access to wireless internet service will be at an enormous disadvantage. They would be like monkeys compared to human beings. The haves in such a society would be at such an advantage they couldn't help but exploit the have nots. The have-nots would become a permanent underclass of worker bees. Such a permanent disadvantage would go against the values of America. Therefore, more and more, as the years pass, wireless internet access will be seen as a fundamental human right.

Does this all sound crazy? Well, think about it again. Why does it sound crazy? What's to stop it from happening? Do you believe their was an eternal wall erected between the human brain and the technological world? I doubt it.