Saturday, December 03, 2005

Politics: T(s)ANSTAAFL.

"To call something public is to define it as dirty, insufficient, and hazardous. The ultimate paradigm of social spending is the public restroom." P.J. O'Rourke

Via Les Jones, we learned that the lagoon of New Orleans will be the first sub-aquatic municipality with taxpayer-supported WiFi internet acess.

Wait, wasn't I supposed to say "Free"?


I wish people would stop using that word. There still ain't no such thing as a free lunch. You can, however, sell crappy, insufficient service to anybody if you:
1) Tell them it's free.
2) Steal small amounts of money from them here & there to pay for it.
3) Loot their neighbors to make up for any funding shortfalls, whether the neighbors use the service or not.

The vast majority of Americans seem to tolerate, for instance, substandard educations for their children, because they don't get presented with a bill every month showing, in all its itemized glory, how much they're being fleeced to send junior off to William Golding Memorial Junior High School every morning. Instead, they cough up a few extra pennies for their Big Gulp at the Stop & Rob, fork over a few dollars on the rent they pay the county for their land every year, and generally get filched left and right without really noticing it, all the while moping that they wish they could get Piggy into a good private school, but just can't afford it.

The only thing worse than being overcharged for something, of course, is being overcharged for nothing, which is how costs get held down in this system. Piggy's folks don't have to pay too much to have some sense knocked into their kid's head because, hey, I'm helping to pay for it too. Whether I like it or not. Which I don't, in case you hadn't figured it out.

Now you and I and everybody else, thanks to the miracle of federal relief dollars, will get to provide New Orleans with a WiFi network which will, no doubt, be every bit as efficiently run as William Golding Memorial Junior High School as soon as the shiny wears off and it's just another public service. Ah, well, they may be able to make me pay for it, but at least they can't make me use it.


Oleg said...

There's two problems with taxes: they reduce my available resources and they give bad people more funds to do mischief with, such as buy goons to enforce more of their redistribution and behavior control schemes.

boomvark said...

"Willim Golding Memorial Junior High School." Heh. Nice touch. And the rest is spot-on, too.

Grampapinhead said...

Free Wi-fi access is government controlled internet access. Just a terrible idea, and a very underhanded way of gaining control of all our freedoms.

Justin said...

I was the tech dork for a wireless ISP for a while out here. It was a part time gig. I still keep in touch with the guys that run it and I pick up bits and pieces about how the whole thing works from them.

This is GOOD for the city.

What happens is that the ISP gets a deal with the city allowing them to put up towers, and the ISP pays for their construction. They then put in the basic infrastructure and the city piggy backs on that. The Proles get free WiFi or some sort out of the deal. The city may or may not actually have to hand over cash to keep it running.

It's really just a coy way for politicians to get radio towers put into areas where the public might not want them. The free WiFi is the buy off. Sure, there's an ugly radio tower in the area, but you get free WiFi!

Once the tower is in place the ISP then uses it to put up dedicated high speed links to businesses. They get to undercut the "land line" providers because they don't have to deal with the feds and their taxes on the local loop. That is, in an area where there ARE land lines.

When you don't have a basic telecom infrastructure anymore this is the fastest way to get high speed internet back to businesses... and probably lock in early customers too. City gets more taxes, and the ISP that put the tower up gets customers. Businesses might even be attracted to the area because of the good wireless service, furthering tax revenue and creating jobs.

So, when you hear "free WiFi" think: "Politician allows ugly tower to be built in area to open up high speed internet access to businesses. Citizens given crappy "free" WiFi service from said towers to keep them from complaining."

If people didn't dislike ugly towers, you'd never see "free WiFi" I bet.

Anonymous said...

I'm agnostic on whether municipal wi-fi is a good idea. It's really going to depend on how it's implemented.

In New Orleans' case, I think it's a good idea during the rebuilding phase. Most of the city's Internet infrastructure is down, and wireless is the quickest way to get it back.

I think having the city run the Internet service is a bad idea generally. Most cities that are doing municipal wi-fi (San Francisco, Sacramento, Philadelphia) are taking bigs and letting a private company run it with government oversight. That's a better model overall, but I can see why New Orleans didn't want to spend the time on a bid process right now.

- Les