Sunday, January 15, 2017

Why aggressive federal intiative needed to modernize inadequate U.S. telecom infrastructure

Virginia “Broadband Deployment Act” would kill municipal broadband deployment | Ars Technica: Virginia lawmakers are considering a bill called the "Virginia Broadband Deployment Act," but instead of resulting in more broadband deployment, the legislation would make it more difficult for municipalities to offer Internet service.

The Virginia House of Delegates legislation proposed this week by Republican lawmaker Kathy Byron (full text) would prohibit municipal broadband deployments except in very limited circumstances. Among other things, a locality wouldn't be allowed to offer Internet service if an existing network already provides 10Mbps download and 1Mbps upload speeds to 90 percent of potential customers. That speed threshold is low enough that it can be met by old DSL lines in areas that haven't received more modern cable and fiber networks.

This is a big part of the justification for an aggressive federal telecom infrastructure initiative to build and publicly own fiber optic connections to nearly every American home, business and institutions. While many have placed hope in state and local government "muni broadband" efforts, they won't scale and rapidly enough to address the nation's current and future telecom needs. The nation now faces an infrastructure crisis, getting further and further behind the demand curve as time goes on and the need for robust connectivity grows.

There are two reasons why these local efforts fall short. First and most importantly, existing state and local governments lack the many billions of dollars and debt capacity needed to finance the job. They're already strapped by deferred infrastructure maintenance such as for highways, roads, government buildings, and water and sewerage systems. Not to mention the yawning economic black hole of underfunded public employee pension obligations that sucks up state and local funds. In a similar vein, we don't read accounts of new special districts being formed to build and operate telecom infrastructure, with the locals signing on to tax themselves to pay for it.

The second is the legacy incumbent telephone and cable companies call the shots on telecom infrastructure and will do -- as the above story reports -- whatever it takes to keep control, even if it means keeping in place obsolete infrastructure and impeding technological progress with minimalist incrementalism. State and local governments are simply outgunned by boatloads of campaign cash and armies of lobbyists and propagandists intent on keeping the calendar set at 1999 in order not to disrupt their capital expenditure averse business models. Nor is there any real private sector threat. For example, Google Fiber got its ass kicked and then publicly mocked by AT&T when it ventured into the telecom infrastructure business to connect homes with fiber and forming public-private partnerships with local governments.

As I wrote in my 2015 eBook, Service Unavailable: America’s Telecommunications Infrastructure Crisis, the United States requires an aggressive federal initiative to modernize the nation's aging and hugely inadequate telecom infrastructure so that it serves all Americans and not just some. Only the federal government has the authority and resources to make that happen and is justified in doing so given the essentially interstate nature of telecommunications.

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