On the digital divide - best practices in PA take turn for worst in OH

Submitted by Norm Roulet on Thu, 12/23/2004 - 05:06.

REI Director Ed Morrison sent me a link to an excellent
case study that well demonstrates the value of ECHO - East Cleveland Homes
Online... this article highlights a Philadelphia program that is helping bridge
the digital divide isolating some of the most troubled households in that
region, and we need to do exactly the same types of things to gain exactly the
same types of benefits here - read this story and case study!

This issue is about to become explosive in this state as,
like in Pennsylvania, Ohio politicians are trying to legislate
protections for special telco interests that will take many options away from
communities trying to bridge their digital divides. Ohio is about to become the
battle ground (and joke) for the national digital divide war because a State Representative from Mount Vernon (near Columbus), Thom Collier, has
introduced a bill in the Ohio state legislature that amends existing Ohio cable
competition law by restricting political subdivisions from providing
"telecommunications service using telecommunications equipment".

This issue will dramatically heighten
awareness of all related issues, moving the digital divide issue from back
burner to one of our hottest social topics. Read about this and a comment from
Wireless Philadelphia, from Philadelphia City Hall,
which just fought this battle in PA – see http://www.muniwireless.com/archives/000526.html

It is interesting Collier is Chairman of the state Economic Development
and Technology Committee, in the state with arguably the worst economic
development performance in the country under his watch. On the Internet is a photo of Collier cavorting
with special interest leaders at an Ohio Chamber of Commerce soiree in 2001 -
in a competition for "the Weakest Link", of all things - http://www.ohiochamber.com/Events/saltfork4.asp.
At the following link you see who is on that Ohio Chamber board - http://www.ohiochamber.com/about/board.asp
- SBC, Sprint, AT&T. As Wireless Philadelphia comments, in response to Ohio's latest disgrace:

I encourage Dayton and all other Ohio
municipalities to get their stakeholders writing and calling the representative
and the governor. Make the fight public. Let the citizens know that
telecommunications companies are getting huge incentives at their expense.

Telcos do not like to have the public beware of
this type of legislation. Verizon would have been very happy if Philadelphia
had not found out the legislation had moved out of subcommittee for vote.
Although the governor did sign the bill, Philadelphia was able to get Verizon
to waive their right of first refusal because we got over two thousand people
to call and write to the governor about the importance of citywide, low cost,
high speed broadband access. Don't forget to include your schools, minority
chambers, marketing and tourism groups, nonprofits and emerging wifi and wimax
vendors as well as citizens and businesses. They all will be impacted.

My advice to municipalities is to act fast, make
your argument public and get your lobbyist involved.

REALNEO is committed to help bridge this
region's digital divide, and we don't need Columbus legislating restrictions on
how that may be accomplished. This issue must and will be explored further - it is time to partner with leaders of the public-service wireless movement in Philadelphia and elsewhere to
explore all the best practices for uniting communities, and replace our “Weakest Links� with
better connections to the new economy for NEO.

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for “The Weakest Link� included State Representatives Merle Grace Kearns,
Thom Collier, Dan Metelsky and Charlie Wilson, and governmental affairs professionals
Lora Miller, Andrea Varasso and Rick Ayish.