My weekly Law Bytes column (Toronto Star version, HTML backup article, homepage version) examines the battles over municipal wireless Internet access initiatives. Adam Beck, a provincial cabinet minister from London, Ontario, introduced a bill that created the Hydro-Electric Power Commission of Ontario. Adopting Power for the People as his slogan, Beck vigorously fought corporate interests who wanted to keep electricity in private hands. He pushed for a public utility that could provide all Ontario cities and towns with affordable electric power generated from Niagara Falls. His vision led to the worlds largest public utility and dramatically changed the lives of rural Ontarians by bringing electricity to thousands of farms and villages.
As the column notes, a century later, Becks fight is being replayed anew. I argue that municipalities are well suited to take on this issue, since ensuring that an entire community enjoys affordable access is a necessity, not a luxury. Moreover, the column notes that in Canada, a national broadband initiative has stalled, leaving local governments to follow examples such as Fredericton, New Brunswick which blankets its downtown core with free wireless access.