Free WiFi Causes BellSouth-New Orleans Rift

It was only a matter of time before we saw some kind of a backlash on the New Orleans wide Free WiFi network.

The Washington Post reports that BellSouth has withdrawn its offer to give one of its damaged buildings that was a possible site of the new police headquarters. The offer was rescinded in a chat with Terry Ebbert, New Orleans homeland security director. The report says that BLS was upset about the free WiFi network.

BellSouth spokesman Jeff Battcher disputed the city’s version of events.”Our willingness to work with the mayor and the city is still on the table,” Battcher said. “We’ve been working for over two months on this building . . . we are a little surprised by these comments.”

Greg Meffert, the city’s chief technology officer and a deputy mayor, said he is saddened that BellSouth finds the city’s network so objectionable.

If it is true, this is particularly distasteful and petty, given the immense tragedy suffered by New Orleans. It is the kind of public relations disaster that can have a domino effect. While it clearly is a case of he-said, she-said, the recent track record of Bell operators has been that of lobbying against any municipal Internet plans. BellSouth for instance has been fighting MuniNET plans of Layfaette, Lousiana . It has been an ongoing issue in other cities such as Philadelphia, and is not going to end any time soon. Local communities are going to have trouble keeping up with the scorched earth lobbying efforts of incumbent phone companies.