Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Debate over government role in telecom needs to distinguish between infrastructure and services

Internet access tops Legislature’s list, despite questions of risk - OANow.com: Lee County: Alabama’s Republican legislators are championing a bill that, if passed, would make the state the first in the country to have broadband Internet in all of its public schools. Locally, Sen. Tom Whatley, R-Auburn, sponsored a bill to remove restrictions on the service area of a municipal public provider, like Opelika Power Services.

But David Williams, president of the National Taxpayers Protection Alliance based in Washington, D.C., argued that providing Internet is not the role of government. “I’ve been doing this for 23 years now,” Williams said, adding that he has been looking at municipal broadband projects for the last five years. “Providing broadband and cable TV services isn’t a core function of the government.

Williams' assertion needs to be broken down in order to engender a more informed debate. Let's stipulate he is correct insofar as providing digital media services isn't a core function of government, particularly given the critical role of a free and independent press in a democracy.

However, Williams ignores the fact that the providers of these services generally lack the telecommunications infrastructure in order to make them available to every home, school and business since their business models cannot support the capital investment necessary to build it. The resulting market failure has left some 14.7 million American homes without landline connections needed to deliver high quality data, graphics and video -- not to mention VOIP -- according to this analysis by Doug Dawson of CCG Consulting.

Government has a key role to remedy this market failure in telecom infrastructure by constructing fiber to the premise networks as public works just as they do roads and highways -- while leaving the services delivered over them to private providers.

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