Colorado Bill might hamper better broadband

Free market forces and competition have lowered the price of TVs, cell phones, refrigerators and just about everything else. Why shouldn't free market forces lower the price of broadband access? Shouldn't you have the opportunity to pay only $15.99 a month for true broadband access like citizens in Chaska, Minn.? Senate Bill 152 in the Colorado legislature will effectively forbid cities from even facilitating the build-out of the newest advanced broadband access technology: broadband wireless.

The regulatory freedom that allows cities to work with cable TV operators to offer new services that now compete with the traditional telcos would be abolished. Can you imagine a world without cable TV? If this bill is enacted, a world with ubiquitous, low-cost, competitive broadband Internet access will be far away.

Expanding broadband access is fundamental to better jobs and growth.

President Bush has made it a national priority. What more and cheaper broadband access means is better connected businesses, more productive police, better educated citizens and more money in family pockets spent in local communities. That the U.S. is 13th in broadband penetration is not a way to compete in global markets. Bringing more competition to the broadband market, as seen with cable TV, is where local governments have a critical role because they control rights of way and because they are critical consumers of broadband services, especially for their mobile work forces like police, fire and EMS.

So it is perplexing that the Colorado legislature should consider limiting municipalities in deploying or even facilitating inexpensive broadband.

The fact is that new technology is today being rolled out that provides affordable, "use anywhere" wireless broadband to government, citizens and small businesses. Products such as mesh wi-fi technology mean more affordable broadband; up to 80 percent to 90 percent cheaper and faster to install and maintain than wired broadband. In many cases the Internet can be accessed by any laptop or other device with a wi-fi radio. And the same technology serving citizens and small businesses enables local government to improve significantly public safety and other services.

One network with many benefits - what is more efficient than that?

Many cities beyond Chaska have already turned to broadband wireless to support public safety and other operations. In San Mateo, Calif., police officers now spend 8,000 more hours a year on their beats because a broadband wireless network gives them instant access to databases and in-field reporting. In Corpus Christi, Texas, broadband wireless is automating utility meter reading, allowing workers to read 73 water meters per second, compared to minutes per meter manually. New Orleans installed an innovative combination camera- broadband wireless-motion detection technology to reduce the murder rate by 57 percent and auto theft by 25 percent within six months in the covered areas.

The fact is that broadband access made available anywhere quickly and at low cost via one wireless network has evolved from market competition and technical breakthrough. Until recently, competition for broadband access has been limited by complex traditional technology, including expensive proprietary equipment and costly construction. Only big telephone and cable companies could compete in this environment. Local governments and independent service providers in many cities across America now demonstrate how easy, fast and cheap it is to install a network for municipal use, and the enormous benefits and efficiencies gained by offering service from that network directly to citizens or by contracting with the private sector to do so.

The fact is that broadband wireless complements existing wireline services and works regardless of provider - telcos, cable operators and local governments. It gives first responders and other municipal employees "use anywhere" access to broadband. It expands broadband access to those who are not served. It is the free market making more services available to more people. Why would we want to slow it down?

The fact is that incumbent providers oppose new competition; it threatens market share and makes previous investment obsolete. However, that is what free enterprise and market forces are all about - promoting efficiencies to give the best services to the most people at the best price. Public policy should not be about stifling free market competition.

In the end, open competition will lower costs. We need competition for broadband as well. Paying more for less will cost us dearly - in our homes, businesses and safety. Let's not do anything constraining the free market system that has made America great.

Ron Sege is the chief executive officer for Tropos Networks.

Copyright 2005, Rocky Mountain News. All Rights Reserved.

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