Thursday, September 17, 2009

Actually, That's Not A Confederacy--It's Just Me

Victor Godinez of the Dallas Morning News, who writes an excellent technology/gaming/lots of stuff column, sent in a far more lucid commentary than I had yesterday about broadband definitions:
I think the InternetNews article didn’t quite capture what’s at stake here. (I actually wrote an article for the paper a few days ago about this topic and what it means for Texas: Push Would Spread Broadband Across America).

Basically, the reason the FCC is trying to define “broadband” is that the stimulus plan passed this spring mandates that the agency find a way by next February to make broadband available to 100 percent of U.S. residents. So the agency needs to come up with a definition so it can have a baseline to measure what each household should be receiving.

But the faster the minimum speed, the more expensive the build-out is going to be. If you live in a region where broadband is not available by this point, that’s because the ISPs have calculated that they cannot profitably provide it, either because the population is too widely dispersed, the geography is too problematic or some other issue. So the FCC’s program is going to involve the federal government subsidizing broadband deployment in those rural, unprofitable areas. And the higher the minimum speed threshold, the more expensive it will be to deploy (think Fios versus DSL) and the larger the government subsidy will have to be. While the stimulus plan set aside $7 billion for the first year, companies have already petitioned the feds for close to $30 billion for various broadband deployment projects, and that’s most likely going to be just a down payment.

So while we can all wish that every household in America has access to 10 megabit service, this is going to be a taxpayer-funded initiative. And how much of your tax money are you willing to spend so that every rural shack in Montana can have broadband? And that doesn’t even get to the issue that surveys have found that a large percentage of people currently without broadband don’t even want it. So we could spend hundreds of billions in taxpayer money to deploy broadband, only to find that many of the beneficiaries don’t bother to subscribe.

I’m not saying we shouldn’t spend this money. It could well be that we, as a society, decide that’s an investment we want to make. But it is going to be hugely expensive and take years to complete. It’s not as simple, I think, as just saying the ISP’s are shortsighted.

That's such a clear stream of thought that I'm not going to muddy it up by adding anything.

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