EarthLink Saves Big Easy From BellSouth

    March 30, 2006
    WebProNews Staff

EarthLink will continue to provide free wireless access in New Orleans by assuming management of the city’s WiFi network and investing some $15 million over three years to improve and build out that network.

It looks like Greg Meffert won’t face jail time after all. The CIO for the city of New Orleans made no mistake in stating how strongly he felt about maintaining availability of the wireless network for citizens, despite rumblings from BellSouth.

WiFiNetNews blogger Glenn Fleishman referenced BellSouth’s recent history of publicly-nice, privately-hostile behavior in his latest blog post. The telecom company, soon to merge with AT&T in a $67 billion deal, wants Meffert to turn off the free wireless Internet access now that the danger of Katrina has passed.

At the core of the issue rests legislation passed by New Orleans legislature, which limits municipalities from offering broadband networks with speeds faster than 144kbps. The network currently active in New Orleans operates at 512kbps, and EarthLink will maintain that when they take over private management of that Internet access.

USA Today reported on the offer, which comes on the heels of BellSouth’s requests that Meffert shut down the network:

More than 10,000 people are using the service. Among them: police officers, law firms, restaurants, bars and coffee shops. EarthLink will keep providing the service for free, but plans to sell faster premium services in time.

Jeff Battcher, a BellSouth spokesman, says that his company has spent “tens of millions of dollars” repairing the local network, “which any Wi-Fi network would rely on.”

Fleishman answered Battcher’s comment at length in his post:

BellSouth said that the Wi-Fi networks relies on access that BellSouth spent tens of millions of dollar repairing. Which, in fact, they were obliged to repair under state and federal regulations for incumbent operators that grant a monopoly in exchange for certain kinds of services being universally available or available on a certain basis, so let’s not pretend that this gives them special rights.

The incumbents have fought hard for unregulated broadband, and have won practically every decision they’ve needed. It’s thus doubly irritating to hear them complain that they’re spending money to build services other people use, such as T-1s. If the service is regulated, they are subject to strict tariffs and conditions. If the service is unregulated, they’re competing in the market. In either case, they have to spend that rebuilding money if they want to maintain their rights.

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