Incumbents Trying to Mess with Texas!

The Legislature That Tom DeLay Bought (aka “the Texas State Legislature”) is considering legislation that would ban municipalities from offering bandwidth to ordinary citizens.

The Austin Business Journal reports that this has got folks in Austin (the capitol of Texas!) in a bit of a lather since the city has been offering Internet access for years through public access spots and offers free Wi-Fi service in places like the Austin airport.

Naturally, the incumbent providers are behind the legislation. In this particular case, the offending parties are SBC, Time Warner, Inc. (via it’s cable subsidiary), and Texas-based Grande Communications.

The article points out that Austin is preparing to host the 2006 World Congress on Information Technology and that some citizens of Austin view the proposed legislation as a turning away from the city’s leadership as a tech-savvy community.

I know of no one who disputes the fact that technology has played a essential role in Austin’s growth over the past three decades, so the comments included in the article on the impact of restricting the ability of city governments from delivering bandwidth are particularly relevant to the discussions we’re having here in Lafayette.

Consider this passage quoting David Deans, founder of the nonprofit Economic TeleDevelopment Forum which is based in Austin:

Deans agrees that stifling Internet access — either at public buildings or through “hot spots” around a city where free or inexpensive wireless services can be accessed by laptop users — doesn’t bode well for economic development.

“We might find, at some point, that a company would rather relocate to another city or town where the environment is conducive to facilitating a global network economy,” Deans says.

“In other words, a forward-looking community — not the telecom backwaters.”

Imagine the disadvantage Austin would find itself when competing against a “forward-looking community” that had done more than merely deployed free Internet access. Imagine if Austin had to compete against a community with fiber run to every home an business — like will can have in Lafayette.

This is exactly what technology leaders in Austin fear: that tech-savvy communities with great lifestyles and great quality of life will make the kind of technology infrastructure investments in their own economic future that, if they incumbents have their way in the Texas Legislature, cities there will no longer be able to make.

The LUS project offers Lafayette the opportunity to step out of the telecom backwater and onto the global networked economy. That will be our choice. Status quo, as determined by a couple of Atlanta-based corporations with no allegiance to this city; or, an investment in ourselves and our future?