Thursday, May 04, 2017

The adverse impact of deficient telecommunications infrastructure

Municipal Broadband | POTs and PANs: Local governments are finding that nobody wants to buy homes without broadband if there is a nearby community with broadband. Worse, communities are seeing businesses move away or bypass them when considering new locations. Lack of broadband puts school kids at a definite disadvantage and there are still a lot of households that drive kids daily to public hotspots just to do homework. And lack of broadband takes away all the opportunities for working at home – probably the biggest area of job growth in rural America. I see small communities – even down to really small sizes like townships with 700 residents – trying to find ways to build a broadband network. I’ve read a few hundred RFPs from rural communities over the last few years, and probably not more than 5% want to become an ISP. But they will do so if they can’t find a commercial company willing to do it. Rural communities largely favor of public-private partnerships. More and more of them are willing to kick money into a building a network if an ISP will invest in their community and operate a broadband network. I believe that within a decade we are going to start seeing broadband ‘deserts’ where communities without broadband start withering – just as happened in the past to communities that didn’t get electricity, or that were bypassed by railroads or interstate highways. It’s hard to think that a community today can keep their kids at home without broadband – and this is starting to scare local governments.

I agree with the writer that the impact of not having advanced telecommunications infrastructure in the 21st century will indeed have negative consequences just as the lack of electrical distribution and transportation infrastructure did in the 20th. But the analogy isn’t directly comparable what’s happening on the ground. Electrical distribution and transportation infrastructure deficiencies
(and railroads in the 19th) affected large regions of the nation in early in the previous century. The lack of advanced telecommunications service on the other hand is better equated to neighborhood redlining associated with mortgage lenders and insurance companies. It’s far more granular. A household can be served by advanced landline telecommunications infrastructure while another just down the road, over the hill or around the bend is not. This post at Steve Blum's blog as well as any number of “broadband maps” paint a crazy quilt of served and unserved areas that looks like this:

And as unfortunate members of those unserved households will attest, their pleas for service have fallen on deaf ears for more than a decade now or have been met with vague promises of service. Someday. Maybe. But mostly likely not because they don’t fit the business models of investor-owned providers that is incompatible with high cost, long term investment required for infrastructure
projects. 

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