Big Easy Broadband Battles BellSouth

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Hurricane Katrina prompted New Orleans’ chief information officer to open the municipal 512kbps mesh network to anyone who wanted to access it, but now faces the prospect of a shutdown and legal fight prompted by BellSouth.

“If I have to go to jail, I guess I will,” New Orleans’ CIO Greg Meffert said in a Red Herring report. “If they really want to play that game, I guess they are right. But we simply cannot turn off these few lifelines we have to our city and businesses.”

The game is Legal Chicken, and it illustrates the fallout from local and state legislatures passing telecom-friendly laws that ban municipalities from competing with telcos on providing Internet access. Despite continued telephone and Internet outages in the city, the telcos want this network shut down. Now.

“The vendors, the BellSouths of this world, are not only going to force us back, making our existing Wi-Fi illegal, but also they want to close a loophole for emergencies so that we would not do this again,” said Meffert in the article.

Blogger Craig Settles thinks city governments have to be aware of telcos meddling in the legislatures:

Cities do well to maintain their vigilance on legislation in Congress and statehouses which impacts municipal broadband so they don’t get blindsided. Remember House Bill 30 in Pennsylvania which restricts these projects? This was a bill that had been lying around dormant for over a year before Verizon decided to revive it in response to Philadelphia Wireless.

Settles’ observation refers to the bill that nearly derailed Phildelphia’s plans for a city-wide wireless network. Eventually the bill was reworked to include an exemption for Philadelphia.

New Orleans and Philadelphia’s governments did not keep their eyes on the telcos’ operations in the state capitals. Other municipalities should learn a lesson from their examples.


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David Utter is a staff writer for WebProNews covering technology and business.

Big Easy Broadband Battles BellSouth
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