FTC issues competition guidelines for Muni Wi-Fi

Judge and Executioner

The Federal Trade Commission today mapped out the terrain for American municipalities considering rolling out their own Wi-Fi Networks.

Chief among the regulator's concerns is to ensure that local authorities do not torpedo the competition. But its report "Municipal Provision of Wireless Internet,” is less a series of dos and don'ts than a "decision-tree framework [that] seeks to reduce the possible competitive harms arising from a municipality operating as both a market participant and a regulator". Muni WiFi is not a one size fits-all option, and is unsuitable for some municipalities, the FTC says.

The FTC report is the first to spring from the loins of the FTC’s Internet Access Task Force, which was convened in August. This team is also examining that telco-political hot potato, Net Neutrality.

Free Municipal Wi-Fi for all ought to be a no-brainer. After all, what is there for the latte-drinking laptop owners of America not to love? Dole out free wireless cards to the poor PC owners-who- can't-afford-the_internet-of-America and you could cross that digital divide. Lard the service with Google adwords and it pays for itself, maybe even makes a buck or two for the municipality. But the shops who tempt the latte-drinking laptop owners of America with WiFi, free or otherwise, and their network suppliers can find themselves losing out bigtime to a local monopoly.

Luckily for the other side, many municipalities in favour of running free Wi-Fi, have adopted a leisurely timetable for its adoption. Last month, for instance, Google expressed its displeasure with the "slow-moving city bureaucracy" of San Francisco, over delays in signing a final contract to install a free Wi-Fi service there. ®

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