The WiFi Cloud from Texas

Jon Perr

Dailykos reports that Texas Congressman Pete Sessions has introduced legislation to bar state and muncipal authorities from implementing public wireless Internet service.  Though not good news for Portland and the Personal Telco project providing free wireless access across the city, all can find solace in the dismal fate of a similar bill in the Texas legislature.

Sessions' bill (HR 2726), the self-proclaimed "Preserving Innovation in Telecom Act of 2005", prohibits state and local governments from providing any telecommunications or information service that is "substantially similar" to services provided by private companies.  Sessions, whose resume includes Bell Labs and Southwestern Bell, is closely aligned with telecommunications interests. As you would expect, the industry is decrying unfair competition from municipal and regional governments making investments in wireless infrastructure and services as critical components of their economic development.

Mercifully, the prospects for Sessions' craven bill do not seem bright.  The state of Texas itself overwhelmingly rejected a similar proposal, in part due to the high profile opposition of tech leaders like Michael Dell. Even Texas, the state that brought you "nucular", executions of the developmentally disabled and a governor signing anti-choice legislation in evangelical church schools, had the good sense to just say no.

For Nigel Ballard and the Personal Telco project, this monstrosity requires vigilance.  Hopefully, this latest Texas export to the rest of the country will be much less damaging than its others.

  • forethought (unverified)

    Just so you know, there is legislature in Oregon along the same lines. When I found out that Oregon was one of the states where such legislature had been introduced, I looked up the bill and wrote to the two gentlemen who introduced it, as follows:

    To: [email protected], [email protected] Gentlemen, The summary of HB 2445 reads: "Imposes requirements on local governments with respect to provision of telecom service by local government. Provides exceptions." I've read the proposed bill, but it's not clear what specific problem it is intended to address. May I ask you, its authors, what existing issues it would address, or future problems it might prevent? Thank you!

    This was the reply from state Representative Butler:

    From: Rep Butler <[email protected]>
    To: <[email protected]>
    Cc: REP Schaufler <[email protected]>, [email protected] Please ask the parties who have urged you to contact me to better explain their position to you. (They have a legal obligation to accurately explain BOTH sides of an argument to you!) That would be the best place to start this dialog. Tom Butler

    Not a terribly polite reply, in that it's both assumptive and, as it turns out, incorrectly so (I had to do my own footwork to look up the bill and their addresses, and I wasn't put up to it), but I suppose questioning the motives of reps is not the best way to get them to give you actual information. Not that I'm at all certain they would have replied to anything else, either. I did reply and politely ask for a pointer to any such source that would provide "both sides" but never got another reply. Ah well.

    Hopefully the bill will go down in flames. It does make me wonder what kind of campaign contributions these gentlemen are getting from the utilities, though...

  • Bert Lowry (unverified)

    That seems like a very strange reply. Especially: They have a legal obligation to accurately explain BOTH sides of an argument to you!

    If he's right, though, we'll be able to send Lars to prison for years and years and years. Is there anyone who knows what Rep. Butler is talking about? Is there a law that requires proponents/opponents of legislation to accurately present the best argument of the other side?

  • bobriven (unverified)

    Also of interest, after a little bit of digging, is that one of his biggest campaign donors is SBC Communications. Guess what they do?

  • TomHiggins (unverified)

    While the news may be bad for city planners looking to do wifi coverage, the Personal Telco Project is an all volunteer non profit that does what it does without they local city or state and is therefor not hit by this type of legislation.

    It would be nice if we did get a little help from the city, like some roof rights in a few key locations or perhaps use of the all the fiber the city has to build out some of the PTP etwork... but we do not and yet we still do what we do.

    So while these types of laws are, in my personal opnion, something that may stop a city from doing its own thing or helping other projects like ours to do what we do, its impact on us is minimal.

    For more information on the Personal Telco Project please visit one of our hundred or so nodes or our web site at


  • Jon (unverified)

    Thanks for the perspective from the Personal Telco project. It's reassuring that this kind of self-serving legislation will have little impact on Personal Telco.

  • jmc (unverified)

    Yes, once again someone confused community wireless with municipal wireless. It happens.

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