As Crikey was going to press with Chris Berg’s polemic against municipal broadband projects (yesterday, item 22), I addressed a room in Sydney’s CBD packed with representatives from the ACCC, Senator Coonan’s office, Telstra and ACMA, telling them exactly why the San Francisco project — touted as such a failure in Berg’s reading — had failed to gain traction.

Although Berg attempted to spin an all-too-familiar tale of government foisting unwanted services on an indifferent public, his is a mendacious misstatement of the facts.

Google and Earthlink, who intend to build the service (in order to realise revenues from local services offered through it) quickly found themselves up against the more-or-less-reconstituted AT&T, a corporation with enormous financial resources and nearly unlimited political power.

The San Francisco project has been thwarted, both politically and in the courts, by the telecommunications interests which earn a lot of money in that fair city. (Australians, does this sound familiar? It should.)

The fight in San Francisco has never been about whether citizens would use the service — there’s almost unanimous agreement that they would. Like Melbourne and Sydney (but unlike the example of Orlando, which Berg again cherry-picks to bolster his argument) San Francisco has a core with a very high population density, high incomes, and a high demand for connectivity.

There is so much demand for this service that the citizens of San Francisco have decided to ignore the catfight between the various corporate giants and build their own municipal wireless network. The technology to do so is both cheap and widely available. (Check it out here to see how the project is developing.)

San Franciscans have been donating their own bandwidth to the project. Without any help from the municipal government, and despite the wishes of the entrenched communications oligopolies, 1% of the city is using the network at any time, and the number of users is growing rapidly. Within a year the network will cover much of the city, and San Francisco will have its free municipal network.

That’s precisely what Berg doesn’t want. When Berg “advocates” free-market solutions for municipal networks, he’s actually spruiking for the extension of the entrenched telecommunications interests which have stifled innovation in this country for a decade.

That’s not a free-market, that’s an anti-market.