How about city-owned cell service?

A couple of recent developments have brought me some pleasure recently.

First I saw snow shovels marked down 70 percent, which I take to mean that there is only a 30 percent chance of global warming causing another heavy snowstorm by warming the atmosphere and causing it to freeze water.

Secondly, I noted that the Grand Junction City Council voted fairly decisively not to embark on the possible misadventure of municipal internet service — known by those in the know as “Fibergate.”

This was a rare exercise in fiscal constraint, which I’m certain will be followed by an explosion of spending in some other area of glamorous but strikingly tangential government concern.

Nevertheless, it was the right decision and it was one that raises the fundamental question of how much of an economy should the hairy hug of government embrace.

We’ve asked the question before of what are the triggering mechanisms that indicate government should do a task ahead of private industry and found the extremes easy to define but the point of transition, not so much.

To help me answer this question I went back to some of the minutes from prior City Council meetings discussing the possibility of municipal participation in internet services. I was first interested to see how many people commenting on behalf of staff have been replaced. I don’t necessarily find this to be a bad thing as I generally hold that city managers, police chiefs and public works directors should be fired regularly, like Roman candles on the Fourth of July.

One of the terms I found interesting was the idea that there was a belief among the citizenry that deemed internet service to be practically a “fourth utility.”

The others I assume to be water, power and sewer but I could be wrong as an outsider looking at the priorities of the last few years probably would assume them to be event centers, coliseums and partially renovated opera houses.

I understand the argument, which is essentially a sound one that necessary infrastructure should be provided or available so that an industry is able to operate effectively or they’re going to find a place where it is available or more reasonably priced.

Outhouses and wells are quaint but do not meet the standards of the modern, mega-widget manufacturing concerns we are trying to attract.

Accordingly, I do believe that a fairly strong argument can be made that the internet itself has become a powerful method not only of information transfer but of commerce.

So working with that analogy it might seem digital services fall into the same category as roads and bridges, which local government provides — but how does that reason out in the case of railway, shipping or air travel?

Also, doesn’t the efficiency curve seem to point toward a competitive model of aggressive providers, such as the example of the United States Postal Service, a vital service once provided by government being overtaken by more cost-effective private contractors?

And what about perhaps the most important electronic medium of information exchange and rapidly growing commerce — the smart phone? It consumes a substantial portion of teenage attention and consumer expenses.

If you think people aren’t very happy with their internet service just ask them about their cellular provider and the high cost of data download for those who have to watch vital science fiction programming on their cell phones at the gym because no one in their house is interested in the genre. OK, maybe a little too self-referential but valid nevertheless.

Cellular service is certainly considered to be an essential service for individuals and businesses so why not municipal cell service that is so reliable and cavernous in bandwidth that it’s discussed from the rock bound coast of Maine to the tents and sleeping bags of downtown San Francisco.

Perhaps these are good ideas and possibly do rise to the level of necessity in most people’s mind, if so the price tag should be determined, the range of monthly charge made available and a vote should be arranged.

Taxpayers should just consider, however, that if something like this does happen, you will likely end up having the same range of choices for internet as you have for trash, water and sewer.

Rick Wagner is a Grand Junction attorney who maintains a political blog, The War on Wrong. He can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).


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