Charleston lags in internet infrastructure 

Behind the Curve: Technological innovation and public access? We're a wreck.

By now, everyone is aware that efforts to provide the city with free wireless access have gone the way of the dodo. Despite plans to blanket the entire peninsula in a wireless signal, the cost of hardware eventually made most involved pull the plug.

In a few years it will be in instances like this — when we wonder why we're falling so far behind the rest of the country technologically — that we'll be able to point the finger of inferiority and say, "Yep, that's when it happened, right there."

Which might seem like a harsh thing to say. But stay with me on this.

You'll remember an article I wrote two months ago mentioning the former Soviet Bloc country of Estonia. Considered to be the "most wired" country in Europe, I note that such an achievement is pretty impressive for a place that used to be planted squarely behind the Iron Curtain, using computers that had all the processing power of a 1974 Datsun.

Then in 1996 — five years after the U.S.S.R. officially dissolved — the government decided to build the country's entire computer infrastructure. Which they did, with stunning results.

According to the Estonian government's website, of its 45,216 kilometers, today all but 216 square kilometers is covered in free wireless access.

For all of you non-metric sad-sacks out there, that's roughly half of South Carolina. In Chucktown, due to squabbles and arguments and "rising costs" and 100 other lame excuses, there is still no free wireless access downtown. Which is why we suck.

Here's what happens.

Someone proposes an idea — "Let's make all of downtown wireless."

Others get on board — "We'll totally get behind that."

Then, when it costs too much money, they cut and run — "We've decided that the entire process is too expensive at this juncture and furthermore blah blah blah."

And we miss out on a great opportunity once again.

Did you notice those dates? Estonia decided to do this in 1996, and now, 11 years later, it's got a complete top-to-bottom computer infrastructure in place. Sure, it didn't happen overnight. The government paid for everything, not the private sector.

Regardless, it works. It's in place. And it's for everyone.

This is the world of the future here. And before you start in with all the crap that usually crops up in these situations — how much better our country is, personal freedom, education, etc., etc. — do me a favor: If you're somewhere where you have internet access — most likely, not downtown — go ahead and look up Estonia. In fact, do a search for the "State of World Liberty" project and see where they rank the country.

Go ahead, I'll wait.

Ouch, No. 1! And double ouch, that their rep as the "most wired country in Europe" came from government spending.

If you are living here, however, Starbucks, McDonalds, and the Atlanta Bread Company would love to take your money to access their wireless networks.

Why get something for free when you can pay for it instead?


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