Editor’s Note: Continuing our retrospective on the American “sewer socialism” movement.

By Jason Sibert

In the past, sewer socialists municipalized certain capital-intensive economic functions like electric grids, sewers, and trash collection and fought for the efficient delivery of public services like fire protection, public safety, and infrastructure. A modern version of sewer socialism must make room for modern technology and embrace the information technology revolution. Therefore, sewer socialism must promote municipal Wi-Fi. Like garbage collection and electric grids, Wi-Fi is a capital-intensive function that comes with economic rents, a regularly recurring economic benefit. When worse comes to worse, those who possess economic rents can abuse their power by raising the costs, in this case on Wi-Fi, and make customers pay more on a regular basis. Those who provide Wi-Fi cannot argue that they’re competing in a free market. Those who compete in a genuine free market rely on a revolving group of customers. A municipal Wi-Fi network would be accountable to democratic legislatures, unlike private Wi-Fi.

The economic facts mean that municipal Wi-Fi would be a perfect project for contemporary sewer socialists. Albany, New York, Chicago, Illinois (in many public places), Burlington, Vermont, El Paso, Texas, Indianapolis, Indiana (downtown), Houston, Texas (downtown and in a few other select neighborhoods), Madison, Wisconsin (central part of the city), and Minneapolis, Minnesota are just a few American cities with municipal Wi-Fi.

There are other reasons why municipal Wi-Fi is essential, not just for individuals but also for businesses. An increasing number of citizens use the internet in their educational, professional, and social lives. People check regularly their emails and WhatsApp messages. They use the internet to find shops, restaurants and museums, to compare product prices and to get a taxi. Free public Wi-Fi contributes to a better-connected society and more agile interactions between citizens and business.

Sewer socialist mayors, aldermen, or alderwomen would increase the competitiveness of his or her city by pushing this reform. Tourists visiting a city on business would find their stay more pleasant. The reputation of cities with municipal Wi-Fi would increase and these cities would attract more business conventions. A modern-day sewer socialism can be good for business! According to the National League of Cities, cities with economies based around digital technologies are more likely to have lower unemployment and poverty levels, and an urban area’s median income level and gross domestic product per capita correspond to the strength of its internet sector. Municipal Wi-Fi can also be used to combat inequality because it will bring Wi-Fi to areas where it doesn’t exist.

Wi-Fi is also a part of smart city plans, allowing data to flow more quickly. It allows cities to know where to allocate resources to address these gaps and trouble spots. In northern Alaska, for example, an IoT solution is used to more efficiently clear roads in bad weather.  In Philadelphia, the water department is using sensors to monitor infrastructure. And in Georgia, intelligent traffic solutions are helping municipalities respond to extreme weather events and improve traffic flow and vehicle and pedestrian safety.  Devices like cameras can also be used by first responders.

As part of any movement to elect sewer socialists around the country, municipal Wi-Fi should be the top reform!

Jason Sibert is the Executive Director of the Peace Economy Project in St. Louis.

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