City leaders in Winter Park are making a bold move in examining the possibility of connecting municipal buildings via fiber optic backbone. Such a backbone would provide limitless capacity and capability for bandwidth, network speed and functionality. Further, the city is approaching this possibility in a deliberate and reasoned manner that includes community members. Mayor Steve Leary has made a wise decision in establishing a task force to examine this issue.
The possibilities seem limitless but, so are the potential dangers. A decade ago, numerous municipalities in Florida envisioned managing their own consumer local telephone networks. They saw the opportunity to create a new revenue stream for local government and, of course, all the great things that could be done for their constituents. But, they didn’t count on, nor could they see, the challenges of maintaining a network and meeting customer quality demands. When they couldn’t make the profits they anticipated, citizens were taxed for the municipalities’ inability to efficiently run a “private business.” That’s when Florida’s Legislature stepped in and passed a law prohibiting local government subsidies and requiring government to play by the same rules as private industry.
As the task force dives into its work, it is my hope that members will address the possibilities and dangers before them in a way that provides for the most effective and efficient government, promotes free enterprise, and refrains from intruding in the market. From the industrial revolution to present, one thing has proved true time after time – government owning or controlling the activities of the private market is tempting, but it leads to lower quality and higher costs.
Since 1987, the James Madison Institute has championed principles that have made Florida a beacon for prosperity – that economic prosperity is best secured through greater freedom and less government exertion in the market, as opposed to government “solutions” that neither solve a problem nor address a real need.
If the true goal of the task force is to examine the best approach to connecting city facilities to provide better services to the residents of Winter Park, then this should be commended as laudable and innovative. If, however, the ultimate objective is to set up a framework for a back-door approach to establishing a government-owned provider of broadband services, well, that would be antithetical to free-market competition and concerning to those who value freedom and economic liberty. And, there is a track record demonstrating it as a bad experiment.
We commend the Winter Park City Commission for its responsible approach. We look forward to engaging in the dialogue as the work begins. And we stand at the ready to assist in offering research-based insight as the process moves from ideas to debate to actual policy formulation.
Dan Peterson lives in Winter Park. He is the director of the Center for Property Rights at The James Madison Institute, and has served on the board of the Winter Park Chamber and other nonprofit boards.