Arkansas Cooperatives Apply Rural Electrification Model to Internet Access | Arkansas Business News | ArkansasBusiness.com: Cooperatives around the country, he said, are comparing providing broadband to bringing electricity to rural residents in the 1930s, calling it the next necessity for rural America. For-profit providers disagree with the rural electrification analogy. Ed Drilling, president of AT&T’s Arkansas Division, said internet is different because there was a guarantee in the 1930s that every resident would buy electricity and pay a usage-based price for it, while only 30 percent might buy broadband access and pay a fixed-rate price for it.
There is a clear parallel here to another failed market: individual health insurance. The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act employs a similar guarantee -- the individual shared responsibility mandate that everyone have some form of health coverage -- in exchange for health plan issuers agreeing to provide coverage to whomever applies for it without medical underwriting. That is intended to remedy market failure on both the sell and buy sides by effectively forcing sellers and buyers together.
The AT&T official stops short of suggesting a requirement that every premise take service in exchange for halting current market practice by AT&T and other investor-owned telecom providers that cherry picks some areas while redlining others within their nominal service territories -- market conduct that's now illegal under the U.S. Federal Communications Commission's 2015 Open Internet rulemaking.
AT&T is correct that the electrical distribution infrastructure deficits of the early 20th century differ from the telecommunications infrastructure gaps of 2016. Back then, electrical distribution infrastructure was largely concentrated in urban areas, leaving entire rural regions unserved and in the dark. A major difference is today's Internet-based telecommunications infrastructure is deployed in rural areas but in a very granular and arbitrary manner that leaves one neighborhood or even part of a road or street unserved or poorly served while an adjacent one has decent access.