Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Senate Democrats to propose $1 trillion infrastructure plan

News from The Associated Press: A proposal by two of Trump's financial advisers circulated just after the election calls for using $137 billion in tax credits to generate $1 trillion in private investment in infrastructure projects over 10 years. But investors are typically interested only in projects that have a revenue stream like tolls to produce a profit. Charging tolls for roads and bridges is often unpopular. A recent Washington Post poll found that 66 percent of the public opposes granting tax credits to investors who put their money into transportation projects in exchange for the right to charge tolls. The American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials and transportation industry lobbying groups want a hike in direct federal spending instead of tax credits. What is needed most, they say, is money to address the growing backlog of maintenance and repair projects, most of which are unsuitable for tolling.

This also applies to America's aging and obsolete telecommunications infrastructure. It should have been modernized with fiber optic technology all the way to customer premises starting a quarter of a century ago. Instead today, the nation remains on outmoded metal wire infrastructure designed for the pre-Internet days of telephone and cable TV service.

The financial points of this article also apply. Just as it won't for roads and highways, a for-profit business model isn't going to generate the low hundreds of billions of dollars needed to build the telecom infrastructure to accommodate the ever increasing demand for Internet protocol-driven bandwidth. There simply isn't enough return on investment given the enormous capital expenditure requirements. Ditto tax incentives.

Americans also understandably dislike a toll-based scheme that subjects them to the tender mercies of vertically integrated Internet Service Providers (ISPs) -- who because they own both the pipe that brings telecom services to customer premises as well as the services delivered over it -- enjoy hugely disproportionate market power. Just ask anyone who received a notice their monthly bill would be going up this year. Telecom infrastructure should be in the public realm and treated -- and funded-- as a public good.

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