The story of muni WiFi in New Orleans has been a juicy one. BellSouth's lobbying machine was in high gear in Louisiana, getting a law passed saying that any municipal WiFi network couldn't operate at speeds above 128kbps. When the city dared operate a network at higher speeds in the wake of Hurricane Katrina to assist relief efforts and provide some telecom infrastructure when private companies -- like BellSouth -- couldn't, the company allegedly withdrew the offer it had made to the city to donate a damaged building to house police headquarters. A few months ago, BellSouth lobbied to get the network shut down completely, saying it was illegal under the state law, though city officials refused to comply. Now, Earthlink says it's been awarded a deal build a citywide network in New Orleans, and plans to offer a free 300kbps network alongside paid services of 1Mbps. BellSouth and its cabal will probably react negatively to this network, and try to fight it -- but they'll soon realize that most of these "municipal" WiFi networks really aren't municipal at all. Private companies build, own and operate them, while localities' only contribution, typically, is to allow access to lampposts, utility poles and the like. If BellSouth has such a strong interest in this market, it was welcome to bid for the contract like any other company. Of course, that would require it to compete, when it would rather spend its resources trying to get the competition shut down by laws and regulations instead of taking it on in the marketplace.
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