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Let me turn that question around: how can a community like Cleveland afford to run a municipal broadband network, if the reason AT&T won’t expand service there is that people don’t have the money to pay?

Our approach to broadband in poor urban neighborhoods is completely screwed up. We blame the telecom provider for not building in areas it’s not profitable to service, or force them to do it to be allowed to service the city at all (and as a result, nobody gets service).

Broadband access in poor neighborhoods is a matter for the general welfare system and should be paid for with federal and state tax subsidies, just as we do for say schools in poor urban neighborhoods. Then, we can make a reasoned cost-benefit analysis about how to best use that tax money. (For example, maybe wireless is a more cost-effective way of providing a safety-net level of service than fiber.)

You might be interested in the story of Dennis Kucinich and Muny Light. Years later, it actually did turn out to be the right choice (and I’m no Kucinich fan). Maybe something similar could be done with wireless and the utility poles.

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