Saturday, June 28, 2008

Costly oil will fuel public policy push for universal broadband access

The Los Angeles Times is out with a look ahead at how Americans' lives will change with $200 a barrel oil and $7 a gallon gasoline if it reaches those price points -- which would represent an exponential increase considering oil was going for just $20 a barrel at the beginning of 2002.

I predict that if this unpleasant circumstance comes about, it will provide a big boost to telecommuting and other forms of using telecommunications technology to bridge distances rather than fuel consuming transportation. That in turn will create a major public policy push for rapidly upgrading the nation's incomplete telecommunications infrastructure to ensure every American has access to high speed Internet -- possibly on the scale of the Federal Aid Highway Act of 1956 -- only this time involving fiber optic cable instead of concrete and blacktop.

On July 16, 2008, Virginia Gov. Timothy M. Kaine citing rising fuel prices and the escalating cost of commuting to work, announced a telework initiative for gubernatorial appointees, which includes about 120 employees in the Cabinet and Governor's Office. Kaine also announced an improved State Telework Policy directing all state agencies to consider ways to improve and expand agency telework and alternate work schedule programs.

In order for telework initiatives like Kaine's to work, Virginia and other states will have to ensure that their telecommunications infrastructures provide broadband access to all state residents. That means policies and incentives to rapidly deploy infrastructure to make telework possible and not simply engaging in studies and mapping broadband black holes that don't result in wider broadband access. Rising pump prices will likely add the necessary extra incentive to show real and timely progress.

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