Micah Sifry has written a nice piece about why wifi and cheap broadband is an essential enabler and more important than direct aid for communities which need help. He references various examples and source. I completely agree. I remember speaking to a UN diplomat who said that the Internet has changed the face of global policy making. He told us that the Anti-Personal Land-mine Treaty would not have happened if it weren't for email and the ability for NGOs to get information, organize and pressure governments and the UN using the Internet. I believe that at every level, it is essential to empower individuals and communities with a voice and the Internet is in a position to enable people for the first time at a reasonable cost. It is about global voices.
I believe that it is easy enough to run a basic Wifi, Internet and Voice over IP network that in many cases municipal governments can run them. I realize this hurts competition and this is what Verizon argued when they tried to stop Philadelphia for setting up their own Wifi network, but I think it would be better than what we have now. In many places broadband is controlled by organizations that are effectively monopolies anyway. See for example the new ruling in the US that cable companies don't have to allow others to provide access through their network. Would you rather have the network run by a monopoly that is controlled by a bunch of greedy shareholders or a local government that the people at least have some control over?
People will argue that allowing local governments to operate networks will stifle innovation because of lack of competition. I think that the benefit is worth the cost of providing cheaper and more universal access. The network is becoming less and less a "service" and more and more a "thing". You can buy a bunch of routers and hook them together and you have a pretty good network. You do need maintenance, but you don't need some huge company with a bunch of bell-heads running the thing. Simple access is more like a road than a full-service hotel. It just has to be cheap and work.
I agree that this isn't for all municipal governments, but I think the central governments of the world should try very hard not to give in to the pressure of the telco lobbies and stifle the attempts of municipal governments to provide network services including voice. I also believe that non-profits and NGOs can play a huge role in helping provide access in addition to municipal governments as well as helping municipal governments set up such networks.