City Broadband Plans: One Vision, Four Markets, Four Issues | Benton Foundation: My message today is simple: every city needs its own broadband plan.
At one time, I would have agreed with this statement by Blair Levin, who wrote the 2010 U.S. "National Broadband Plan" while serving on the staff of the Federal Communications Commission. I even went as far as paraphrasing the late House Speaker Tip O'Neill by declaring "all broadband is local" on this blog.
I no longer hold that view. It's not just about "broadband" in a given municipality or as is more often the case, a particular neighborhood. Instead, the truly important issue is ubiquitous Internet telecommunications infrastructure in keeping with the FCC's recent reclassification of Internet service as a common carrier utility. And that infrastructure is fundamentally interstate -- much like the federally funded interstate highway system -- and global. In that regard, it's not directly comparable to the municipal and cooperative electric power systems created in the early 20th century that generated and distributed power consumed locally. The Internet is a telecommunications network that reaches far beyond the borders of a given city or town and whose true value is recognized by Metcalfe's Law, which holds a network increases in utility as more users are added to it. In short, it's all about the network and not "broadband" or discrete "gigabit cities."
The hyper-local focus on this essential infrastructure for the 21st century is well meaning and understandable in the absence of strong federal leadership and support. But it's also misguided and dangerous because it serves to reinforce incremental thinking and Internet infrastructure disparities that have plagued the nation for a generation. It's also unrealistic to expect local governments to shoulder the financial burden as they continue to deal with the adverse impacts of the 2008 economic downturn and are strapped to fix crumbling roads, schools, sewer and water infrastructure and fund enormous public pension obligations.
If it is to realize the full value of the Internet, the United States should instead adopt a bold, wholistic and robustly funded national Internet infrastructure initiative to bring fiber infrastructure to all homes, businesses and institutions.