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Tech Industry

Intel to back broadband role for cities

Chipmaker will take a stand in the policy debate--opposing Verizon's stance against municipal broadband.

Chip giant Intel on Wednesday plans to provide a high-level perspective on the ongoing debate over the role of the public and private sectors in providing broadband services.

In a speech at the Wireless Communications Association in San Jose, Calif., Intel Executive Vice President Sean Maloney is expected to encourage commercial service providers and public agencies such as city governments and municipalities to work together in building out new broadband infrastructure.

Intel has a keen interest in the proliferation of wireless broadband technology and industries using it; by early next year it plans to produce WiMax chips for networking equipment that carriers can use to sell high-speed Internet access to consumers. WiMax is a promising wireless broadband technology allowing data to be wirelessly transmitted across several miles at transfer rates of several megabits per second.

"Sole responsibility, either from government or a single carrier, of a city's wireless network is not the best solution for growing the market," said a source familiar with the chipmaker's position in wireless broadband policy. "A sharing of responsibilities is what will encourage broadband adoption, and that will be a key point in Intel's policy proposal."

Maloney will outline the company's high-level policy position and will speak out against efforts to ban municipally owned networks. In recent years, phone companies and cable providers have actively lobbied local and state governments to ban public agencies and municipalities from building their own communications networks. The commercial providers have been successful in some regions of the country.

In some instances, commercial providers will be able to build networks and offer the best network choice to customers at affordable prices. But in other instances, such as low-income areas or rural locations, it might make more sense for a city or some other municipality to build the infrastructure.

"We welcome Intel's position and strongly support collaboration between the public and private sectors," said Jim Baller, a principal attorney for the Baller Herbst Law Group and a leading expert on municipally owned networks.

Intel's position is partly in response to strong lobbying by Verizon Communications that helped lead to the passage of a law in Pennsylvania that prohibits cities from offering Internet access to their residents for a fee. Verizon and other incumbent phone companies had urged legislators to ban municipally owned networks to prevent other cities from following the lead of Kutztown, a small college town near Allentown that set up its own telephone, Internet and TV system in 2002.

Phone companies and cable providers argue that municipalities that build and own their communications networks have an unfair advantage because they are backed by public funds. They claim that the municipalities will drive them out of business by offering services at greatly reduced prices.

On the other side, communities that want to build their own networks argue that they want broadband services now, and they are not willing to wait until it becomes economically feasible for commercial providers to build the infrastructure.