February 22, 2006
Dumb Solutions to
Non-Problems? Trust Your Government
number of U.S. cities are trying to provide something for free that is
already available for free. You have to love the competitive,
entrepreneurial spirit of government. If there’s a service that no one
needs, and that you can’t possibly make money off, government will not
miss the opportunity.
when you’re talking about free stuff, the definition of free tends to be
different for government people and for human people. For the latter,
free means I get it without paying anything for it. For the former, it
means I pay taxes to them and they provide it to me without actually
invoicing me for it – until they need to make budget cuts.
If I can
get something for free (I mean, really free), it is just a matter of
time before someone in government will become troubled that I am getting
it for free and not from them.
recent business trip to Muncie, Indiana, one in which I arrived about 30
minutes early and wanted to check my e-mail. It took forever – like,
four minutes – to find the one combination of factors that would make
this technological endeavor feasible. A coffee shop and parking spot on
the street outside said coffee shop.
seat back. Fire up the laptop. Yes, connect to this network. Yes, I know
it’s not secure. How else would it be possible to be connecting to it?
Acquiring IP address . . . hey! That took 11 seconds! Come on!
Client Services: “Will you approve this proposal budget?” Double it.
Administration: “Do you want to try to seize the assets of that one
delinquent ex-client per the default judgment we recently obtained?”
Does his house have a Jacuzzi?
managing editor of newspaper syndicate: “I have some constructive
criticism about your column . . . ” Delete.
seven minutes, and that’s including the time I spent seeing if anyone
responded to my latest post on MotownSports.com. I mean
to imagine anything easier, at least for people who own the necessary
equipment (i.e. a laptop not manufactured in 1973), than connecting to
the Internet. Or more free. It’s so free, in fact, that you can use
other people’s Internet access, which they purchased from private-sector
ISPs. And it’s completely legal, and it costs them nothing, and they
them even put signs in their windows to alert you of the opportunity to
do it. If I give a dollar to a panhandler, I am out more than the guy
whose network I just used. And I might get a Jacuzzi out of it. He gets
nothing. He’ll never even know I was there, and probably wouldn’t care
if he did.
of Internet access among private users of the stuff is so widespread, so
easy and so free, you could almost look at it as voluntary communism. So
it only makes sense that government types would want to get in to the
business. But as usual, they are trying to do it in the least sensible
Philadelphia and Chicago – as well as my port of call, Grand Rapids,
Michigan – are trying to set up citywide wireless networks so that
everyone who steps inside the city limits can connect. They think
they’re being capitalistic because they’re contracting with private
firms to set up the networks. They also think they’re being just
collectivist enough – they are bureaucrats, after all – because the idea
is to extend access to people who can’t afford to pay for it.
failing on both counts. They’re dumb capitalists, because contracting
with private companies to give away something for free can’t possibly
make you any money. The coffee houses who let you use their networks for
free do so because many of those who partake will also buy lattes and
scones. The cities who do this will get nothing.
dumb collectivists, because they’ve forgotten that anyone who can afford
a wireless-enabled laptop can certainly make their way to a coffee shop,
industrial park, subdivision or apartment complex and tap into
someone’s network. The only thing a citywide wireless network does
is prevent you from having to leave your house. And if you are so poor
that you can’t afford your own Internet access – and yet you’ve somehow
gotten your hands on a wireless-enabled laptop – I’d be interested to
see the family budgeting scheme at your house.
wireless went crazy, just about every public library in America would
let you use the Internet for free on their computers, as long as you
weren’t looking at porn. If you don’t have a laptop, you can still get
on the Internet that way. If you do have a laptop, you can get online
from just about any street corner in America – especially the street
corners in the big cities that want to create these networks.
solution to a non-problem. Gosh, I love government entrepreneurs. I only
wish they could be my competitors.
© 2006 North Star
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