Debra J. Saunders

 Except there is a price to be paid for the megabytes. Communications savant Tom Hazlette of the Manhattan Institute noted in a telephone interview that faster, better wireless Internet is being developed all the time. Cavanaugh sees the Newsom wi-fi scheme as a potential "digital white elephant."

 S.F. Public Utilities Commissioner Adam Werbach wrote in The San Francisco Chronicle that TechConnect -- as Newsom calls his plan -- "challenges the existing monopolies and will foster competition necessary to provide universal high-speech, low-cost access." I doubt it. If it fostered competition, it wouldn't have a chance in this town.

 As Hazlette sagely noted, "Why would anybody build any telecommunications facility if the government is going to step in and provide people a government right to it?" So rather than fostering competition, the Newsom scheme likely will hamper it.

 Hazlette dismissed TechConnect as "vaporware." To wit: "There'll be a lot of publicity, and when it's over, there will be scattered service across the city. People who want reliable service will continue to buy it" -- from the private sector.

 I tried to reach the mayor to find out how his philosophy guides him to believe that the city should get into the wi-fi business. I sent Newsom's communications director, Peter Ragone, a message on his Blackberry. I went on the city website and sent from there a request to the Newsom aide mentioned under the handy heading, "Schedule an Interview."

 Ragone returned my call once, when I wasn't at my desk. The net result: Over two days, I didn't hear from Newsom before my deadline. Maybe it was one of those techno-glitches. Or maybe it was a taste of City Hall's vaporware.

Debra J. Saunders

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