Asheville Citizen-Times, May 20, 2012
Once upon a time, Internet enthusiasts made the following comparison: the Internet is to 21st-century economies what navigable waterways and roads were to 19th and 20th-century economies.
But what if our rivers and highways were controlled by a private cartel which set tolls and dictated the make and model of our boats and vehicles? It’s unthinkable, of course. Yet over the last decade, a cartel of cable and phone companies has gained this kind of control over more than 95 percent of Internet access in the US.
In response, many communities have built municipal broadband networks. The cartel, in turn, has persuaded legislatures in 19 states, including North Carolina, to pass laws prohibiting municipal networks.
With an enclosed Internet, we become renters rather than owners. Our freedom to experiment and innovate, while not totally lost, is governed by gatekeepers and licensing regimes.
For “Smart Cities” and local self-reliance advocates, open-wireless networks are essential community infrastructure. “Community wireless protects our freedom to innovate and problem-solve in ways that keep money and jobs in the local economy,” says Christopher Mitchell, director of the Telecommunications as Commons Initiative for the Institute for Local Self-Reliance.
Since 2003, the nonprofit Mountain Area Information Network (MAIN) has operated an open-wireless network, but its reach and capacity have been limited.
As the telecom cartel tightens its grip on the Internet, MAIN and its partners envision Internet access for Asheville and WNC that protects civil liberties and preserves the freedom to innovate for local inventors and entrepreneurs. To learn more or to get involved, visit: http://www.main.nc.us/TVWS.
This was a commentary/opinion piece by Wally Bowen, founder and executive director of MAIN.