Rhymes with Di-Fi
truly is The Special City. Not only has Mayor Gavin Newsom announced
his plan for the city to provide free or cheap access to high-speed
wireless Internet for all San Franciscans, he also has proclaimed
wi-fi access a "fundamental right."
right? I'm impressed. About one-quarter of students at San Francisco
Unified School District score at "below basic" or "far
below basic" on state reading tests. Those poor kids may
not be able to read a book, they might not be able to afford a
computer, but Newsom thinks they have a fundamental right to wi-fi.
At least they can access free porn.
a "fundamental right" to wi-fi means every San Franciscan
has a right to a laptop computer and the chip that hooks laptops
up to wi-fi.
Credit His Slickness
with having the gift of the good stunt. Same-sex marriage? Ignore
the law, and tell everyone that City Hall will approve them. The
marriages won't be legal and the courts will be bound to invalidate
them, but newlyweds won't blame the love-boat mayor.
Besides, I must admit,
the Right to Wi-Fi isn't as embarrassing as other S.F. political
fiascos, such as: the supervisors' vote to reject bringing the
battleship Iowa to San Francisco. Then the whacko idea of making
the battleship acceptable by turning it into a museum to the "don't
ask/don't tell" policy on gays in the military.
Or the city ordinance
that bans smoking outdoors on city property, including parks --
with a kindly exemption for golf courses.
Or the attempt by
former Supervisor Matt Gonzalez to allow non-citizens to vote
in school-board elections. Or the resolution by Supervisor Tom
Ammiano praising protesters of a 2004 biotech conference "for
their concern for the health, safety and well-being of the public
and the environment." Or the vote to redesignate S.F. pet
owners as "owners or guardians."
At least this stunt
puts San Francisco not in the '50s or '60s or Stone Age, but in
the future-looking pro-technology camp.
As Tim Cavanaugh,
editor of the libertarian online voice Reason.com, noted, not
too long ago city pols rejected adding new antennas to improve
cell-phone reception "out of hysterical concerns that cell-phone
towers would give brain cancer to children." In a sense,
you could say the wi-fi scheme is progress in Luddite-town.
Google issued a statement
that it submitted a proposal "to offer free wireless Internet
access to the entire city of San Francisco." No doubt, many
voters will believe there is such a thing as a free byte. After
all, Google said so.
Except there is a
price to be paid for the megabytes. Communications savant Tom
Hazlette of the Manhattan Institute noted in a telephone interview
that faster, better wireless Internet is being developed all the
time. Cavanaugh sees the Newsom wi-fi scheme as a potential "digital
Utilities Commissioner Adam Werbach wrote in The San Francisco
Chronicle that TechConnect -- as Newsom calls his plan --
"challenges the existing monopolies and will foster competition
necessary to provide universal high-speech, low-cost access."
I doubt it. If it fostered competition, it wouldn't have a chance
in this town.
As Hazlette sagely
noted, "Why would anybody build any telecommunications facility
if the government is going to step in and provide people a government
right to it?" So rather than fostering competition, the Newsom
scheme likely will hamper it.
TechConnect as "vaporware." To wit: "There'll be
a lot of publicity, and when it's over, there will be scattered
service across the city. People who want reliable service will
continue to buy it" -- from the private sector.
I tried to reach
the mayor to find out how his philosophy guides him to believe
that the city should get into the wi-fi business. I sent Newsom's
communications director, Peter Ragone, a message on his Blackberry.
I went on the city website and sent from there a request to the
Newsom aide mentioned under the handy heading, "Schedule
Ragone returned my
call once, when I wasn't at my desk. The net result: Over two
days, I didn't hear from Newsom before my deadline. Maybe it was
one of those techno-glitches. Or maybe it was a taste of City
2005 Creators Syndicate