It said, he said: St. Paul Pioneer Press argues editorially against municipally funded wireless broadband; Buffalo, Minnesota, mayor suggests they get their facts straight: The St. Paul Pioneer Press published an editorial in which they argued that governments competing with local businesses don't give a fair shake to the ideas of market competition. The editors maintain that a publicly-run entity has little motivation or potential to keep such a service cutting edge. They point to Buffalo, Minn., where--they say--a $30 per month service that started up five years ago offers 1/10th the speed of competing cable companies. (Wait, doesn't that undermine their argument? Isn't that cable offering, just a few dollars more a month, much more compelling?)
Hold it, says the mayor of Buffalo, in a rebuttal published by the paper. The facts are all wrong he says. The broadband wireless service offered is from $10 to $40 per month for speeds from 192 Kbps up to 1.5 Mbps plus a $10 per month modem charge for 55 months. The cable service is $26 per month through Feb. 2005. The cable service is 3 Mbps. (Sidebar: We all know that broadband wireless has the potential to deliver a point-to-point "dedicated circuit" to an individual customer premises where cable service is pooled among neighbors that share a cable head-end, giving them a pool not a virtual circuit.)
The cable company charges non-cable subscribers $40 per month for 384 Kbps service; Buffalo, including the modem charge, sets the price at $34 per month.
Those are all details, of course. Most cuttingly, the mayor writes,
Finally, several years ago we asked the large, out-of-state telephone and cable companies serving our city to provide residential Internet access. They declined to do so. Our community needed the service. We provided it. Now there is competition. Everybody benefits.
As I note, doesn't the mere presence of a competing cable offering show that municipal wireless--in this circumstance--works? Here at Wi-Fi Networking News, we have consistently been in favor of rural municipal broadband wireless, but dubious about the success and fairness of urban municipal. For urban wireless to work, cities need to build infrastructure that they sell to all comers, like city-run fiber networks or cable wiring. Build the infrastructure, make it easy for providers to come in, and then everyone benefits from the competition.