Saturday, January 17, 2015

U.S. needs complete telecom infrastructure construction strategy, not minimalist incrementalism

The United States needs a comprehensive, holistic approach to ensure the construction of fiber optic infrastructure to provide robust Internet enabled telecommunications services in the 21st century on a par with universal telephone service in the 20th. The nation won’t achieve that standard in a timely manner by relying on incremental, one off builds.

While it’s laudable that some local governments have built or are planning fiber infrastructure in response to private sector market failure on the supply side (as spotlighted this week in Cedar Falls, Iowa by President Obama), these builds without significant and sustainable funding support cannot cumulatively provide the telecommunications infrastructure the nation needs and should have been planning at least two decades ago. As Steven S. Ross notes in his article in the November-December, 2014 issue of Broadband Communities, Bandwidth: Good for Rural Residents, Good for the Country, these localities that have or are putting in place modern telecommunications infrastructure participate in the same economy as do others lacking it.

New York State’s initiative announced this week it would dedicate $500 million of a $4.5 billion windfall arising from the settlement last year of prosecutions of alleged misconduct by banks and insurance companies to subsidize fiber construction. That’s one time, opportunistic funding that will help construct fiber in areas where it doesn’t exist. But it addresses only a small fraction of the state’s significant need as shown by the accompanying map. The money will quickly be exhausted with no plan fiber up the rest of the Empire State, reinforcing existing disparities. Similar underfunded initiatives exist in other states. Incrementalism allows policymakers to claim small, short term victories but leaves incomplete networks in its wake over the longer term.

Other examples of incrementalism are the continuing circa 2002 debate over “broadband speeds” -- which grows increasingly irrelevant in an age of fiber optic-based telecommunications technology -- and “net neutrality.” Net neutrality – the principle that all Internet traffic be given equal priority – is meaningless without robust network service in the first place. A more important principle than net neutrality is Metcalfe’s Law. It holds that the value of a communications network increases as the number of connections to the network grows. With so many Americans not offered fiber Internet service, the U.S. has a long way to go to recognize the full value of Metcalfe’s Law. It won’t get there with piecemeal incrementalism.

1 comment:

InfoStack said...

BB minimums should already be 100/20. Period.

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