Municipal broadband

I'm an enormous fan of pervasive, free, open wireless broadband access.  Last week's news about Philadelphia's move towards city-provided broadband (including wireless access in public places, and access at up to 60 mph) was gripping.

But this message, posted to Dave Farber's Interesting People listserv, deserves attention.

You need a computer to access broadband.  Communities need libraries.  Streets need to be fixed.  Is broadband access a luxury that already-comfortable people — people who own laptops — are getting? 

Or is the pervasive presence of broadband something that will improve economic lives to such a degree — at comparatively little cost — that cities should invest right now in providing it?  (This was the point made by a follow-up message posted to the Farber list.)

I realize that this issue has been kicked around extensively, and that many people I respect decided long ago that municipal broadband should be a priority.  We are worried (perhaps incorrectly) that the US lags far behind other countries in broadband rollout, and we're looking for ways to encourage the growth of broadband penetration. 

But as each city approaches this problem, it must sometimes be a struggle to decide that already-thin resources should be dedicated to helping people with laptops. 

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