Color me unimpressed with this latest proposal from the Mayor.
Buffalo Mayor Byron W. Brown went to Capitol Hill on Wednesday carrying a vision of a rewired Buffalo, where high-tech surveillance cameras would keep an eye on landmarks and crime hot spots while transmitting free high-speed Internet access across the city.
Surveillance cameras tend, at best, to chase criminal behavior to areas without surveillance cameras and free wi-fi should be a complete non-starter.
The city should not get into the business of providing utilities to its citizens -- and wi-fi is a utility. It will cost a lot of money that we don't have and will require more money to maintain which we also don't have. Look, Internet access is amazingly cheap, you can get dial-up Internet for about $10/month.
If there truly is an economic digital divide, it's not the cost of an Internet connection that's at fault, it's more likely the cost of buying a computer. And while I don't advocate giving the poor free computers, that would at least begin to address their supposed lack of Internet usage. How we would address their lack of interest, I have no idea.
Free wi-fi resembles many of the other government-spending schemes proposed to attract business to Buffalo and spur economic development: downtown lofts for artists, expansion of the light-rail and subsidising the arts. They won't attract business and they won't spur appreciable economic development, they'll just make it nicer for those of us already here.
Free wi-fi wouldn't draw the poor onto the Internet so much as it would entice the non-poor to dump their paid Internet access and take it from the city for free. A nice perk, I suppose, but no solution to our real problems.