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John M. Eger Headshot

Free The Cities

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Cities are more important than ever in our nation's history as we enter headlong into a new age of creativity and innovation.

The city is and has been the crucible of civilization; the center of commerce, and in this new age, can and must be the incubator of creativity; the place where people and cultures and ideas wash against one another producing the inventions and innovations the world needs and wants, and the finance and marketing plans to support them.

The city, of all our geopolitical institutions, needs to reinvent itself for this new global age.

This is why "broadband Internet" service today is as important as waterways, railways and highways were in an earlier era. Unfortunately, this concern, indeed urgency, is not widely held. Yet, from a policy standpoint, clearly, at the federal, state and local level, we have lost our way, much to our peril.

Over 40 years ago AT&T had become an impediment to the development and nurturing of a new knowledge-based economy and society. AT&T didn't allow French phones to be connected to its network. Such attachments, they argued, would destroy the finest telephone system in the world. Our nation responded with by breaking up AT&T. Computers married to telecommunications ushered in a whole new era and the Internet soon followed. We led the world in new information infrastructures, information products and services.

Today, according to the ITU or the OECD in Paris, we're either 24th or 25th, depending on how you interpret the report in deploying broadband communications. Smaller countries like Korea, Singapore or Japan, are leading the world by offering broadband [much faster] and at a fraction of the cost. Even in the Middle East, tiny Dubai boasts the largest Internet facility in the world. They practically give away internet access as an incentive to multi-national and global companies to headquarter their operations there,

For the present, however, the cable and Telco's have joined forces and are blocking what may be the single largest user that must retool and reinvent itself for America to succeed, let alone survive, in the new global economy: the city.

Over 200 American cities have expressed the desire to provide municipal internet services. State legislators and other politicians have threatened them. They have been told in no uncertain terms that the telecommunications business belongs to the private sector. Read that: the existing cable or telecommunications firms.

Most cities -- already subsidized in some small way by a cable franchise -- are not willing to make the investment and possibly lose that subsidy. I'm convinced most, however, are simply afraid to act in the face of state and local obstacles.

The public, and public policy, must find a way to free the cities.

The Congress and the FCC can make many changes in their effort to put broadband into the average American home by allowing the cities to shape their futures. By allowing, indeed encouraging cities --to partner with the existing providers or go it alone -- to rewire their cities and in the process, renew the city for the age of creativity and innovation.

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