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Congress Tunes In to WiFi

Congress Tunes In to WiFi

By Robert MacMillan Staff Writer
Monday, June 27, 2005; 10:45 AM

Mick Jagger said it best: 'The summer's here and the time is right for fighting in the street, boy."

The streets run through U.S. cities and towns, where the heat is on local governments to provide free or low-cost Internet access.

For almost a year, the debate over whether Internet access is a paid privilege like telephone service and cable television burbled along in the press and among bloggers and activists. Many see it as necessary to attract new residents, tourists and businesses. Internet service providers, however, see a threat to their billion-dollar high-speed access business. Now that cities such as Philadelphia are trying to make it a reality, the issue's significance is cresting. There's no better way to prove that than with two sets of numbers: 1294 and 2726.

The first is a Senate bill introduced last Thursday by Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.). The Community Broadband Act of 2005 says "no state can prohibit a municipality from offering broadband to its citizens."

The second is a bill introduced in late May in the House by Rep. Pete Sessions (R-Texas). The Preserving Innovation in Telecom Act of 2005 -- almost surely destined for shorthand treatment as "PRITA" -- says state and local governments can't offer Internet service if a private provider already does.

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