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Day 417: Bill Moyers On The Internet

in books, city planning, computing & internet, education, environment, gizmos & hacks, media, new orleans, science & technology, tv/film

My favorite Bill Moyers quote has always been, “Democracy may not prove in the long run to be as efficient as other forms of government, but it has one saving grace: it allows us to know and say that it isn’t.”

PBS and Mr. Moyers recently hosted a three-part series that investigates a triumvirate of issues of growing interest to Americans today: Beltway crimes, the environment and the internet at risk.  What’s nice about this series is that it offers each of us a way to start the discussion and debate in our own community.  The Citizens Class site provides multi-media discussion and reference material summarizing the key aspects of differing perspectives” and “questions for reflection, consideration and response,”  Tools also include how to set up your own event and a booklist

In lieu of that level of involvement, each of these topics has a blog (really a comment catcher) attached where you can ping in on the debate.  I urge each and every one of you, especially the New Orleanians, to read up and educate yourselves on all of these topics.

As a tech-head and a citizen of the new New Orleans, the internet and its availability and neutrality are of greatest importance to me. 

Availability

In light of this story of municipal wireless in Lafayette, LA and the map of such wireless networks in the United States, Moyers asks, “Is wireless internet access a civil right?”

The United States … has fallen far behind much of the world in broadband penetration, and our broadband connections are significantly slower than those in many other countries.  But that’s not the worst of it. Some rural communities, like Lafayette, Louisiana, that couldn’t get high-speed Internet from their cable or telephone company simply decided to build networks themselves. And then the backlash began, with large commercial providers lobbying state legislatures and filing suit in court to stop local communities from doing what these telcom giants allegedly wouldn’t do themselves … 14 states [have prohibited] cities and towns from building their own networks or have passed laws that make it more difficult.

You won’t do it, you won’t let us do it.  How is the true spirit of capitalism served when the corporation works in collusion with the government to shut down the competition?  And we rely on these corporations for progress?  Where’s the value for my money?

Moving on, Moyers’ muni-wireless map highlights the popularity of such community networks in the west and southeast (I love the overlapping networks along the Wasatch Front of Utah).  It also references a larger and more complete map at Freepress.net, which in turn mentions Earthlink’s efforts in New Orleans (emphasis all mine):

In defiance of BellSouth’s opposition to the free wireless network that has been run by the city of New Orleans since Hurricane Katrina wiped out nearly all modes of communication the the city, Earthlink has been working to to beef up the system, investing the first of $15 million over three years to expand and improve the once amateur network that is now utilized by more than 10,000 people. On September 1, 2006, the network will go live across 15 square miles, offering highspeed service to anyone with an equipped computer at no cost for the duration of the rebuilding effort.

… [Mayor C. Ray Nagin] announced on December 1st, 2005, that the city will expand upon its existing wireless network to provide service to the entire city in one year’s time. Currently, the network is functional in the Central Business District and the French Quarter, and proponents note that the network will also help to boost the city’s stalled economy … As long as the city remains under a state of emergency, the network will provide service at 512kps, but will fall to 128kps once the situation returns to normal, in accordance with Louisiana State law that restricts governments’ ability to provide internet service to its citizens.

How interesting.  I wonder if FreePress got that information from the city or Earthlink itself.  Now, you heard that right from Nagin’s mouth: On December 1, 2006, the entire city will have wireless internet access.  Those of you holding your breath ought to buy the swampland I’m selling.

Aside from the above issue, Moyers takes on three inter-related others within the internet category: the new digital divide, internet neutrality, and media consolidation, of which ‘net neutrality is crucial.  It’s not enough that you have the service, what happens when your service is blockaded because your provider doesn’t cough up the dough to the tollpeople?

Neutrality

If you’ve never heard of this term, internet/network neutrality is simply the maintenance of the internet as a tariff-free democratic medium for the rapid exchange of information and ideas.  More specifically and in terms of the technology, it boils down to this:

As the number of sites on the Internet continues to grow and the quality of data becomes more sophisticated-encompassing video and audio files and other multimedia applications-broadband service providers (generally cable and phone companies) are seeking to regulate how material flows to users through their increasingly taxed networks. For most large providers, this has come down to one general desire: They could establish a tiered system of content delivery in which companies with data-heavy content can pay a fee to the providers in return for “special treatment” in transmission.

Ergo, your favorite provider passes the additional cost onto you. 

All of these topics – political crookedness, environmental awareness and the internet – are extremely important to the future of New Orleans and Louisiana.  Once we as citizens learn what we have wrought, are up against and can change, we become that much more enlightened and capable of doing what needed done a long time ago, for ourselves and the people of this land.  My second favorite quote from the mouth of Moyers is, “Our very lives depend on the ethics of strangers, and most of us are always strangers to other people.”

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