Saturday, November 26, 2016

Federal government must take lead on U.S. telecom infrastructure modernization

Under Trump, look to cities and metros to power America forward | Brookings Institution: As Republicans begin to exercise relatively unchecked executive and legislative power, it remains to be seen how they will interact with core tenets of our country’s federalist arrangement. The Trump administration and the Republican legislature should recognize that many essential public functions can only realistically be provided by the federal government. Washington must lead in promoting American interests overseas, providing a safety net for the elderly and disadvantaged, protecting civil rights, maintaining environmental and regulatory standards, and funding basic science and research. If the Republican-led federal government relinquishes these responsibilities, our country will undoubtedly suffer.

But on many other matters that determine our country’s future prosperity and shared growth—the vitality of our businesses, the education of our children, the quality of our infrastructure, the vibrancy of our public spaces, and the skills of our workers—Washington is a junior investor and partial decider. Of every public dollar spent on K-12 education and transportation infrastructure, for example, the federal government invests only 12 cents and 25 cents, respectively. These small contributions are also likely to decline further as our nation’s elderly population grows and spending on healthcare and retirement programs rises.

Relying on local governments to fill in the innumerable gaps in modern fiber optic telecommunications infrastructure is folly. State and local government budgets were decimated in the 2008 economic crisis and it's taking years to fully recover. They also have a pressing need to modernize other aging infrastructure such as roads, schools, and sewer and water systems. Not to mention the enormous burden of health care benefits and public employee pension obligations.

Telecommunications infrastructure is fundamentally interstate and international and not municipal. Replacing yesterday's metallic infrastructure designed to support voice telephone and cable television service with fiber optic infrastructure to support today's Internet-based telecommunications requires many billions of dollars of investment state and local governments cannot fund. The federal government -- not state and local government -- must take the lead as the senior investor.

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