Monday, January 11, 2016

America’s winter of telecom discontent calls for strong, unified federal intervention to bring the spring

The United States faces a long, dark winter of telecommunications discontent if it continues to rely upon the tender monopolistic mercies of the legacy telephone and cable companies. If the light of spring is to come and comprehensive construction undertaken to address the nation’s accumulated telecom infrastructure deficits and build fiber optic connections serving all American homes, schools and businesses, the federal government must take a predominant role relative to its funding and construction. So argues Susan Crawford, who urges a dual pronged strategy utilizing federally subsidized bonds paired with a program to fund and oversee regional infrastructure builds.

Crawford and I are on the same general page here. In my recent eBook, Service Unavailable: America’s Telecommunications Infrastructure Crisis, I call for a federal telecommunications infrastructure initiative to fund universal fiber optic infrastructure as a fully federally funded public works project, not unlike the federal highway construction initiative of the 1950s. Crawford proposes something similar, but also harnessing private investment capital via a regionally administered federal telecom infrastructure development and finance agency, funded by federally subsidized bond proceeds.

Crawford and I agree fiber is the only option for ensuring the nation has the telecom infrastructure it needs now and for the future. We can’t get there trying to subsidize yesterday’s “broadband” speeds or hoping that somehow the laws of physics can be overcome and wireless and satellite will magically offer a cheap workaround. We also agree a unified, federal strategy is needed that also takes a regional approach. 

“[T]o avoid waste and inefficiency, we need to get it right from the beginning — and not just hope we’ll get there with our current patchwork quilt of federal, state, and local government agencies and private utility planners, each with different goals and motivated by different incentives,” Crawford writes. She couldn’t be more correct on that point.

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