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Broadband herring

Harold Feld is very happy that the stimulus package includes “only” $6 billion for broadband to underserved areas. He puts it this way:

There’s an old Jewish joke about how a Frenchman, a Pole, and Jew saved Napoleon’s life. Napoleon asks what they want as a reward. The Frenchman says his family were aristocrats before the revolution and he wants his family lands restored. “Granted,” says the Emperor. The Pole says he wants Poland liberated and her pre-partition borders restored. “Granted,” says Napoleon. The Jew says: “I want a real nice piece of herring.”

Napoleon stares, turns in disgust to one of his attendants, and says “get this man a nice piece of herring from the kitchen and then get him out of my sight.”

The Frenchman and the Pole turn to the Jew and laugh “You could have asked for anything! You idiot, that’s the Emperor of France! And you asked for a nice piece of herring!”

“Ha,” answered the Jew. “You think you’re so smart? I’m actually gonna get my herring.”

That’s about how I feel about the broadband stimulus package. Sure, I’d love to have had the feds build fiber out to every home. But I always knew that wouldn’t happen. Worse, I figured that any HUGE pot of money would invariably end up chock full of goodies for incumbents with zippo oversight. ….

But a reasonable set of grant proposals, properly targeted, can do a boatload of good. Consider Mark Cooper’s community hotspot approach, for example, or the work of ongoing projects such as the Mountain Area Information Network in rural North Carolina or the Lawndale Community Wireless Network in Chicago or any of thousands of projects in hundreds of communities working to bridge the gap between connectivity and digital exclusion…

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2 Responses to “Broadband herring”

  1. […] David links to Harold Feld‘s counterintuitive argument for the low, low, low allotment of stimulus-opackage funds for building out broadband. Feld thinks that the low allotment raises the likelihood that the money will actually do some good; I, contrariwise, tend to suspect that any allocation will wind up being engulfed by an incumbent telco’s insatiable maw. Moreover, half measures (or in this case, “one percent measures”) will leave intact the presumption that users should only expect mediocre data transfer rates. While such an approach might, if all goes well, stimulate the economies of a handful of under-served areas, it neglects the powerful stimulus that would jolt the whole economy if the U.S. devoted itself to providing widespread, low-cost, high-bandwidth net access to all citizens (heck, non-citizens too: “all inhabitants”).   A national broadband package would intrinsically limit the disproportionate benefit that privileged citizens command; after all, the Hampshires might get connected sooner than Victoria City, but once both municipalities are on a fiber optic network, there’s little effective difference. The Montanan and the Long Islander both have access to a ferociously rapid data transfer network, which — once it offers access to a reasonable proportion of the U.S. — would transform and enliven vast swathes of the economy.   And of course, that’s one reason such a proposal meets resistance: incumbent interests from telcos to broadcast media, to film and record companies, to print media, to corporate interests I can’t even think of, all don’t want a rapid revitalization of the economy if it would destabilize their backward-looking business model. I’m no economist — though I couldn’t do much worse than our economic policy-makers did over the last decade or so — but it seems luminously obvious to me that the stimulus package should orient itself toward an element of infrastructure that will bear increasing demand and increasing productivity, as opposed to infrastructural elements that should be bearing diminishing loads defined by legacy technology (roads, for one example; why build new interstate highway segments at the same time you’re trying to discourage over-reliance on fossil fuels?).   So that’s my platform, if Obama nominates me as Undersecretary of Information Technology. Plus, I’m slow and a bad shooter, so if he matches up against me in a basketball game, I’ll make him look like Connie Hawkins. […]

  2. To equate “broadband” with fiber optics to everyone’s PC seems inappropriate. And he seems out of touch with how many people in the US only have dialup as an option. Many communities (some barely communities) in the Upper Arkansas Valley of Colorado are broadbandless, including Cotopaxi where our district’s school is located (It’s also cell phoneless).

    Entrepreneurs are trying to fill the gaps but they are cash-starved. Any infusion of money will help but with such paltry amounts, it isn’t likely to trickle up valley to us.


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