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MONDAY, JULY 25, 2005
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EDITORIAL

Donít pass laws that slow spread of Internet access

Wi-Fi — fast, wireless Internet access — has created a different type of Internet cafe from the ones where you sat down at the proprietor's desktop computer and paid for time online.

In today's Internet cafes, you use your laptop computer to connect free by Wi-Fi. Today's Internet cafes are likely to be coffee shops and fast-food restaurants. And they're in communities like Decatur that never had the old kind of Internet cafes.

Some Decatur hotels are also offering Wi-Fi for the simple reason that travelers — especially business travelers — need and expect it.

Imagine a city that was one big wireless hotspot, where you could hook up to the Internet from anywhere. In such a city, the Internet could become almost as ubiquitous as television and telephones. Such a city would be in a position to take advantage of the latest developments in technology, and perhaps to initiate some of those developments.

Such a city would be an attractive place to work for people and companies. It would be an enticing market for companies that wanted to do business over the Internet, because more consumers would be wired — or rather, wireless. Such a city would be a good place for education and other industries that thrive on information.

Newsweek magazine reports that across the country, cities are beginning to embrace universal wireless Internet service. These cities are considering getting into the Internet business, setting up Wi-Fi networks that their citizens can use free or at a low cost.

You can guess who's against this: companies that sell Internet service. They say "muni Wi-Fi," as it's sometimes called, is unfair competition by government against free enterprise. They want to stop this idea before it catches on, and they're getting help from legislators. Fourteen states have passed restrictive laws.

We hope Alabama won't let this happen. The state and cities such as Decatur ought to be thinking about how to make the Internet available more readily and to more people as soon as enough potential users exist to make it a good investment.

Private companies should be given the opportunity to step up and provide communitywide wireless service, but they could also find profit potential in partnering with governments. Somebody's got to provide equipment and know-how.

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