Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Opinion: Internet infrastructure can't be built in a reasonable time frame with limited, incremental funding

Want to boost rural tourism in Maine? Raise Internet speeds — Opinion — Bangor Daily News — BDN Maine: The catch is that corporate providers, like Time Warner Cable and FairPoint Communications, see no profit in extending fiber optics to remote, sparsely populated areas. So the state must be involved, and several remedies are being explored at the State House. Most of these approaches are “incrementalist”; that is, focused on giving slightly more funding to the ConnectME Authority. One proposal would authorize ConnectME to provide more grants so additional communities can plan for extending fiber-optic networks, creating wireless nodes and boosting connection speeds. Other bills propose small bonds to boost ConnectME’s funding.

Incrementalism, however, has fundamental limitations: Few rural communities are prepared to compete for limited ConnectME funds, and few low-density, low-income communities can afford broadband investment on their own. With incrementalism, it will take years, perhaps decades, to connect all of Maine.

Some progress is better than none, but ultimately rural Maine needs a “big push,” analogous to the New Deal’s Rural Electrification program that transformed life in rural America. The big push strategy’s basic premise is that broadband is critical for rural economic competitiveness and also a public good to which all should have access. Rural electrification relied on community-level planning, but it was also backed by massive public investment.

The author of this op-ed nails it. Internet infrastructure like any infrastructure is costly and can't be put in place in a reasonable time frame with limited, incremental funding. The states can't do it alone. The United States needs a national Internet initiative on the scale that built today's highway and electrical distribution infrastructures.

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