Overheard (v. 6)

Overheard — By on October 7, 2005 at 1:37 am

“This is inevitable — Wi-Fi. It is long overdue. It is to me a fundamental right to have access universally to information…This is a civil rights issue as much as anything else.”

– San Fransico Mayor Gavin Newsom, claiming that wireless Internet access is a fundamental right of all citizens.

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“She gives my name four sylllables — E-ye-e-d.”

Judge Ed Kinkeade, who says that Supreme Court nominee Harriet Miers talks so slowly that the Senate should add an extra day to her hearings .

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“Dr. Smith ‘



  • http://www.gryphmon.com Patrick (Gryph_

    “This is inevitable — Wi-Fi. It is long overdue. It is to me a fundamental right to have access universally to information…This is a civil rights issue as much as anything else.”
    – San Fransico Mayor Gavin Newsom, claiming that wireless Internet access is a fundamental right of all citizens. “

    It wasn’t too long ago that people were saying the same thing about Public Libraries. And they were correct then too.

  • http://churchvoices.com tim

    No, they weren’t correct then, and they aren’t now. Can you imagine going back to 1969 and telling civil rights workers that public libraries are as important on a fundamental level as the rights they are fighting for? Please.
    What patrick and Newsome have to come to grips with is “a nice convenience” is not the same as “an inalienable right”.

  • http://beyondtherim.meisheid.com William Meisheid

    I think we are suffering from severe rights creep. What the mayor is talking about is information access, what public libraries initially provided for everyone, and he now argues applies to the Internet through Wi-Fi.
    It all boils down to the interpretation or amplification of the “life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness” of the Declaration of Independence. Does POH require a right of general information access?
    If we allow this rights creep to continue, where does it stop, if at all? e.g. What good is Wi-Fi, which is not tied to the public library system, without the computer to access it? Unless we end up with another rights expansion this hardly meets any definition of equal access, so it is like a camel’s nose under the tent.

  • http://www.leanleft.com tgirsch

    I can’t say that I disagree with this sentiment:

    It is to me a fundamental right to have access universally to information

    The comparison to the civil rights movement may be a bit heavy-handed, but not as much so as you seem to think.
    For what it’s worth, and educated populace is crucial to the success of any democracy (and we’ve done a lousy job of this), so to that extent, universal access to information truly is fundamental in ensuring the health of our democracy.

  • http://www.leanleft.com/ tgirsch

    a study that reports the percentage of young girls who participate in premarital sex jumped from 12 to 79 percent, while the percentage of young men who participate in premarital sex jumped from 42 to 71 percent.

    What, precisely, constitutes “young girls” and “young men?” (And note the double-standard in terminology.) A good reason for a jump in premarital sex is simply that back in 1943, marriages at 18 or 19 (or even 16 or 17) were a hell of a lot more common then than they are now. And I suspect that honesty in self-reporting is also quite a bit different now than then; ask anyone whom you can trust to answer honestly who was a teenager back then, and they’ll tell you that while teen sex is certainly more common today, it wasn’t exactly rare back then. Also consider that people generally hit puberty at a later age back then than they do now, for a variety of reasons, not all of which we understand.

  • http://www.gryphmon.com Patrick (Gryph)

    No, they weren’t correct then, and they aren’t now. Can you imagine going back to 1969 and telling civil rights workers that public libraries are as important on a fundamental level as the rights they are fighting for? Please.

    I don’t need to go back because I think they already know. Why do you think so many challenges to segregation were in schools? Whether it’s WiFi or Libraries or carrier pigeons, the free unhindered access to information is what is important. Yes, Newsom’s a grandstanding drama queen, but we already knew that.

  • http://metalofheaven.blogspot.com/ David M. Smith

    How can privacy and universal access to information both be fundamental rights?
    I would prefer universal access to Mayor Newsom

  • http://prosthesis.blogspot.com Macht

    “…educated populace is crucial to the success of any democracy (and we’ve done a lousy job of this), so to that extent, universal access to information truly is fundamental in ensuring the health of our democracy.”
    “Education” and “access to information” are not nearly the same thing and universal wi-fi is not fundamental to ensuring an educated populace.

  • http://jwperspectives.blogspot.com Jeremy Wick

    Unfortunately there are far too many liberals in power with the belief that nearly everything is a “fundamental right” or that nearly every issue is a “civil rights issue.” We need more leaders who understand that learning can not be subsidized because people need to be responsible for their own minds. We can not afford to sit by idly while more generations become lazy at the taxpayers’ expense.

  • http://inkan.blogspot.com pgepps

    I think someone needs to define “information.”
    In the sense we used it back when I was a computer science major (before I changed to creative writing and thence to English), “information” is distinguished from “data” by its useful presentation.
    Who defines (if you will) the “utility” of this information?
    Now, if you offer me a universal wi-fi “right” as an exchange for a universal broadcast TV “right,” I’ll probably take it as a matter of pragmatics; people have somewhat more chance of determining the utility of the information for themselves on the ‘Net than on TV.
    Underlying this, though, is the foolish notion that makes “news” drive politics in this country: the idea that reality can be packaged and delivered in some way that makes the uneducated and undiscerning “well-informed” enough to have useful opinions about the world.
    Earth to believers in “objectivity”:  “information” *IS* indoctrination.
    If you don’t know that, you’re being had daily.
    Cheers,
    PGE

  • Anne

    RAISE YOUR PRAYERS FOR PRESIDENT BUSH WITH OTHER AMERICANS OF FAITH

  • http://mumonno.blogspot.com Mumon

    I gotta chime in here: YES IT IS A FUNDAMENTAL RIGHT TO HAVE INFORMATION ACCESS.
    It is a fundamental right to be able to read something so dangerous, so seditious, so erotic that it makes you want to overthrow the government violently, have passionate sex, convert to the Hare Krishnas or atheism or Jesus and be alive.
    If it’s Wi-Fi, so be it. But frankly it ought to be broadband and long distance.

  • Drew

    “…something tells me he (Newsome) is not really talking about universal access to information as much as he is talking about universal access to indoctrination.”
    Newsome’s certainly prone to exaggeration, and obvously he’s not one of your favorite characters, but we’re talking about Wi-Fi access to the INTERNET, man! Have you been there? Just about every theory or philosophy or crackpot stupid notion anyone can come up with is there and unless the city can figure out a way to wirelessly filter everybody’s access there’s no one who can stop you from searching out the information you want. It’s something like the exact opposite of indoctrination.

  • Terry

    While it may be a fundamental right to “have access universally to information” it does not follow that it is the responsibility of a munincipality to pay for wifi. Public libraries are free in most cases, and they provide me with free or low-cost access to the internet as well as current copies of newspapers. Why should the governement provide free wifi when it won’t buy me a newspaper? And when has the government ever controlled the means of distribution of information without trying to regulate its content? In this case I think the libertarians are right. If you ask for free wifi you’ll get what you pay for.

  • http://TheEverWiseBoonton.blogspot.com Boonton

    ‘Free wi-fi’ is a classic example of a public good. It’s cost drops to almost nothing per person when done collectively but is very expensive when done individually. This is why country clubs are almost always very expensive while only a tiny fraction of your tax bill is going to maintain the public park.
    Like the public park but even more so, free wi-fi would have fantastic network effects. Millions that is spent on access would be saved that would be reinvested by businesses in other things. Many people who do not use the Internet would benefit greatly from it.
    What type of regulation would gov’t attempt of the Internet that it hasn’t already attempted?

  • Terry

    Boonton-
    It’s also why you seldom find country clubs with vandalized facilities, littered with beer cans, etc. Everything is potentially cheaper when it’s done collectively. The problem is that there is a price to pay — the service becomes subject to public policy, ie, politics.
    Your line “Many people who do not use the Internet would benefit greatly from it.” is a bit self serving. I could say the same thing about my consumption of gasoline, but I don’t expect the state to pay for it.
    What we’re really talking about here is a middle-class entitlement. The poor, who do actually pay taxes, probably more in CA than in most other states, would in effect subsidize the wifi costs for people who can afford to buy and maintain a computer and are educated well enough to use it.

  • http://www.leanleft.com tgirsch

    Terry:

    Why should the governement provide free wifi when it won’t buy me a newspaper?

    It doesn’t buy you a paper, but it does provide you with a free nightly national newscast. Two, actually, one on the radio and one on TV. Plus free hourly news updates by radio, and a free morning news program.
    In that sense, internet access is much closer to television than it is to print news.

    It’s also why you seldom find country clubs with vandalized facilities, littered with beer cans, etc.

    That has little to do with how they’re paid for, and much to do with who’s allowed access.

    I could say the same thing about my consumption of gasoline, but I don’t expect the state to pay for it.

    Really? But the “state” pays tens of billions every year in foreign policy costs and government handouts to ensure that your gasoline is cheap. In a very real sense, the state does pay for at least a good percentage of your gasoline.

  • Drew

    Over 20 companies, including Google, Motorola, Cingular etc. are competing to win a bid to install wi-fi in San Fransico. In the case of Google, they will pay the installation costs and offer it as a free service with revenue generated by online ads. These companies see a business opportunity and so does the city. It’s a perfect example of private and public interests being served. It’s also a model for what will undoubtedly be coming to other cities around the world.
    http://www.mercurynews.com/mld/mercurynews/news/local/states/california/northern_california/12809266.htm

  • Terry

    Tgirsch-
    In my state I pay an extra 42 cents/gallon to the state for the privilige of buying it. That’s certainly not treating the ability to burn gas in a vehicle as a Newsom “fundamental right”.
    The 10 gallons or so of gas I buy each week has netted the federal government and my state governemnt over $20k this year in payroll taxes. To paraphrase Boonton, many people who do not use the gasoline I pay for are benefitting from my use of it. Why shouldn’t it be a public expense?
    Your other point, re maintainance at country clubs vs. public parks, “That has little to do with how they’re paid for, and much to do with who’s allowed access.” I find difficult to understand. In general maintainance at country clubs is paid by the people who are allowed access. This was my point. If a group of po’ folks was to collectively buy a park, pay for its maintainance, and restrict membership to the paying members I have no doubt that it would be spared the abuse of a public facility. Do you?
    This discussion isn’t about the efficiency of delivering goods and services anyway. It’s about whether Newsom was blowing smoke when he said that internet access was a fundamental right. If that’s true, why isn’t SF going to buy everyone a computer? If the taxpayer’s of San Francisco want to foot the bill for free wifi for everyone, that’s their business. My argument is against Newsom’s declaring: access to information=fundamental right=free wifi for everyone.

  • http://TheEverWiseBoonton.blogspot.com Boonton

    It’s also why you seldom find country clubs with vandalized facilities, littered with beer cans, etc. Everything is potentially cheaper when it’s done collectively. The problem is that there is a price to pay — the service becomes subject to public policy, ie, politics.
    Very true but there are also quite nice public parks and the taxpayers of those communities aren’t paying country club prices for them.
    Your line “Many people who do not use the Internet would benefit greatly from it.” is a bit self serving. I could say the same thing about my consumption of gasoline, but I don’t expect the state to pay for it.
    What we’re really talking about here is a middle-class entitlement. The poor, who do actually pay taxes, probably more in CA than in most other states, would in effect subsidize the wifi costs for people who can afford to buy and maintain a computer and are educated well enough to use it.

    1. The middle classes pay most of the taxes since they have the most money (in bulk, obviously rich individuals have more money than many middle class people put together but for every one rich person there are hundreds of middle class people).
    2. Consumption of gasoline has a direct linear relationship to cost. The guy who spends five hours a day on the Internet doesn’t cost five times as more as the one hour guy (ok, bandwidth does cost like that but it’s usually not much of an issue on an individual basis).
    3. Unlike ‘free gasoline’ free wifi will probably have dramatic spill over effects. It will enable many more creative uses of the internet and will boost economic activity and creativity IMO. This will benefit everyone but you’re right the rich and middle class will benefit more than the poor. That is almost always the case with economic growth but it doesn’t follow that economic growth is the enemy of the poor.
    To paraphrase Boonton, many people who do not use the gasoline I pay for are benefitting from my use of it. Why shouldn’t it be a public expense?
    Most likely because the net benefit of making your gas purchases a ‘public expense’ will not outweigh the costs of buying gas for you with public tax dollars as well as the costs of your increased gas use and waste of gas that would most likely happen if gas was free for you.
    But since you are on the subject nearly all roads are public projects and they are paid only indirectly by those that benefit the most from them. ‘Information superhighway’ may be a 90′s phrase but it seems like a pretty good analogy with the main difference being that unlike roads the costs to actually do ‘universal wifi access’ would be trivial.
    This discussion isn’t about the efficiency of delivering goods and services anyway. It’s about whether Newsom was blowing smoke when he said that internet access was a fundamental right. If that’s true, why isn’t SF going to buy everyone a computer? If the taxpayer’s of San Francisco want to foot the bill for free wifi for everyone, that’s their business. My argument is against Newsom’s declaring: access to information=fundamental right=free wifi for everyone.
    I agree that technically goods and services should not be considered ‘fundamental rights’. Instead they should be considered a lesser category of democratically granted rights that are luxuries that a society can indulge in.

  • http://www.leanleft.com tgirsch

    Terry:
    If you think that 42

  • http://TheEverWiseBoonton.blogspot.com Boonton

    What we’re really talking about here is a middle-class entitlement. The poor, who do actually pay taxes, probably more in CA than in most other states, would in effect subsidize the wifi costs for people who can afford to buy and maintain a computer and are educated well enough to use it.
    1. Most people are well educated enough to use a computer nowadays. Go to any poor neighborhood and you’ll find everyone has a cell phone and knows text messaging.
    2. The benefit is probably larger to a poor person than a middleclass or richer person.
    At $20 per month (which is cheap for home broadband) connecting to the net costs $240 per year. Leave aside the fact that really computer savy people can put together a decent computer from parts for less than that in 2-3 years connection fees have cost the poor person a Dell computer (half that if you use the more realistic $40 price for cable connection).
    The computer, while expensive in a single shot, is pretty cheap when compared to the cost of connecting which adds up over time. Couple that with the fact that getting good broadband usually requires a fixed address, credit card / bank account etc. Being able to just fire up your laptop whereever you are in the city has an added bonus.
    The direct benefit for the middle and rich is less dramatic IMO. These people will not want to be bothered by ‘push advertising’ from Google and would pay to be free of it. Also many would find it attractive to buy net access when it is bundled with other services such as premium cable, phone etc. What this would do, IMO, is dramatically lower the cost of these things by increasing competition.
    Another more technical benefit that shows why this would be better than ‘free gas from the gov’t’. Networks are more valuable with more people. Two gallons of gas are about twice as useful as one gallon…no more. A network community with 200,000 connected people, though, is more than twice as valuable than a community of 100K.
    A lot of business ideas that don’t work in a low connected community suddenly become viable with a highly connected community. I’ll give you a small but significant example. I’m a member of a Yahoo group called ‘freecycle’. What this does is whenever someone wants to throw out something they post it as an email to the group. If someone wants it they can arrange to pick it up. Sometimes rather serious stuff is exchanged on this group like cars or boats but more often it is silly little things like dishes, appliances, unused construction material, books etc.
    Now the great value of this is that those that get stuff out of it save money they would have otherwise had wasted and stuff that would have gotten tossed get’s to be used again. This little idea works the best when everyone in the community is connected. Then the feedback is almost instant.
    Now if you have a highly connected community ideas like that are going to be implemented that would never work in a low connected community. There is a synergy to having more people easily on the Internet. Give away two gallons of free gas, though, and you’ve done little beyond give away two gallons of gas….

  • http://TheEverWiseBoonton.blogspot.com Boonton

    How about this, free access to wifi is like free garabage cans on public streets. Is this a benefit to the private person who can chuck his candy wrapper? Yes. Does it benefit the rich/middle class more than the poor? Possibly (the middle class can buy more candy which means more wrappers to chuck if nothing else). Does it benefit the overall community at a modest cost despite the possibility of abuse? Yes.
    I’m not sure it is going to have any noticable effect on democracy in the US but I think the idea of access as cheap and free as water fountains or garabage cans is a great idea. I do, however, think that it has a lot more potential to do wonderful things than those rather mundane examples.