A highly interesting item appears in today's PC World. It reports on a telephone town hall conversation yesterday between a Tennessee resident and her Congressional representative, Representative Marsha Blackburn (R). It's an encounter to which many U.S. residents will readily relate.
The hapless constituent is stuck on dialup just one mile inside a broadband black hole event horizon. Repeated pleas to an unidentified broadband provider to roll out broadband service produced nothing and the constituent's patience has worn thin.
Blackburn responded by asserting the market would deliver if only more folks in the displeased constituent's neighborhood demanded broadband. Thus, Blackburn reportedly said, the $7.2 billion in subsidies and loan guarantees in the recently enacted federal economic stimulus legislation for broadband deployment to rural and other underserved areas are unnecessary since the market will solve the problem. That's patently incorrect as petitions by residents and small businesses to providers -- so called demand aggregation -- don't convince providers to deploy broadband infrastructure that their proprietary algorithms reject as economically unfeasible.
Ironically enough, Blackburn was disabused of her misapprehension that a competitive market exists in the natural monopoly -- and a duopoly at best -- that is wireline telecommunications service by representatives of two prominent members of the telco/cable duopoly at a panel discussion hosted by the Free State Foundation.
Thomas Tauke, executive vice president for policy at Verizon, pointed to market failure where the costs of providing service go beyond what providers like Verizon are willing to pay. Many of the areas without broadband are "very expensive to reach," PC World quoted Tauke as saying. Accordingly, Tauke added, broadband infrastructure subsidies such as provided in the stimulus legislation are entirely appropriate. The broadband funding in the stimulus measure also drew positive comment from Joseph Waz, senior vice president for external affairs at Comcast, who told the panel its inclusion is "very heartening."
That adds another layer of irony insofar as the big telcos and cablcos have gone on record elsewhere complaining the broadband funding provides little incentive for them to build out their infrastructures, arguing tax breaks would get infrastructure build out faster than grants or loan guarantees. They also object to the open access provisions attached to the stimulus funding.