Cord B. makes an important discovery, other than the fact that Municipalities don’t owe Verizon a market for Wi-Fi…

The post Does Municipal Wi-Fi Have the Incentive for Security? by Cord Blomquist over at TLF is another subterfuge for corporate welfare, carefully disguised. (Although he has picked up on the Headline as a question thing.) But, in the course of the debate he makes a really key observation that I almost overlooked.

First, he starts out with the seemingly plausible statement that perhaps municipalities don’t have as strong a motivation to provide strong security as private companies do:

USA Today reports that most are unaware of the dangers facing them at public Wi-Fi hotspots, which brought to mind an interesting question about municipal Wi-Fi. What incentive is there for municipalities to provide encryption and other security technologies?

The article mentions that AT&T and T-Mobile are the largest providers of free Wi-Fi hookups in the country and although the Wi-Fi itself is unsecured, both companies encourage the use of freely provided encryption software. The incentives for both companies seem fairly obvious. If people are going to be Wi-Fi users they need to feel safe and encryption technology is a way to do this. Customers stay safe and continue to use the service, making AT&T T-Mobile and other providers money.

Do municipal setups have the same incentives? Depending on the financial structure of such a system I can see how there would be little incentive to provide security software or other safeguards to users. Yet these Muni-Fi services would still distort the market, making it less likely for companies—that might be affected by privacy concerns—to invest in those areas.

After much discussion by others, the discusion moves away from the security question (red herring!), and to the real issue, which is that stuff like free municipally-provided Wi-Fii isn’t allowed under that good ole free market religion.

I ask then: Well, Cord, if Municipalities shouldn’t be in the Wi-Fi business, why should they be in the library business?

Both efforts have very similar aims, and libraries ‘compete’ with bookstores and video rental establishments, right?

Cord doesn’t really answer this directly, which would require him to explain how providing free access to the internet is anything more than the extension of a municipal library concept into the present electronic network-centric day. Instead, he makes the really surprising admission that public libraries aren’t really allowed under free market dogma:

I believe that incentives are real and that owners take care of their investments better than other parties. So, based on those principles I would have an objection to public libraries, but they’re really a low-priority. Bookstores like Barnes & Noble and Borders are thriving despite the competition from libraries and most public libraries I have been to aren’t horribly mismanaged by any means.

However, membership libraries did exist in the past and some still exist today in small numbers. These private, non-profit institutions charged membership fees to readers, but often offered reduced or free membership to other who couldn’t afford the fee.

In many ways, some bookstores function in the same way now, but by default. Barnes and Noble often has people hangin’ around just reading, and not buying.

Of course, being transfixed by the prospect of denying free market dogma, Cord has no choice but to admits that he does have an objection to Public Libraries, but, realizing what a good thing a public library is, he has to place that objection on a ‘low priority.’

But I nearly missed a really, really, really important observation Cord made.

It’s the last, seemingly innocuous sentence from the above quote, whose true significance wasn’t apparent at first:

In many ways, some bookstores function in the same way now, but by default. Barnes and Noble often has people hangin’ around just reading, and not buying.

Yes, that’s exactly it Cord!

Competition, including that from public entities, such as public libraries, is beneficial. Private entities, such as Borders, get better because of competition, including competition from non-private sources. They become more like the entities against which they compete!

Cord has seen the light: competition is a good thing.

And thank you, Saint Louis Public Library, for the seating in Borders!

And here’s a link to a great Public Library system: Saint Louis Public Library.

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Cord B. makes an important discovery, other than the fact that Municipalities don’t owe Verizon a market for Wi-Fi…

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