Broadband for all?

I have been reading the Biden-Sanders Unity Task Force Recommendations in the past couple of days. It’s full of lots of progressive liberal dreams. But I’m a pessimist, I expect most of it cannot get passed Congress in anything like it’s current form but hope springs eternal. I guess. Anyway… I came across this part:

As millions of Americans have stayed at home to prevent the spread of the pandemic, it is plain to see that in the 21st century, the Internet is not optional: It is a vital tool for participating in the economy, and all Americans need access to high-speed, affordable broadband service. Democrats will take action to prevent states from blocking municipalities and rural co-ops from building publicly-owned broadband networks, and increase federal support for municipal broadband. We will increase public investment in rural broadband infrastructure and offer low- income Americans subsidies for accessing high-speed internet through the Lifeline program, so children and families can fully participate in school, work, and life from their homes. And Democrats will restore the FCC’s clear authority to take strong enforcement action against broadband providers who violate net neutrality principles through blocking, throttling, paid prioritization, or other measures that create artificial scarcity and raise consumer prices for this vital service.

I support this, I wholeheartedly support this. The lack of broadband is a detriment to anyone’s participation in the modern economy. As a worker, for more and more jobs, and, increasingly, as a consumer. COVID-19 has shown it’s an even more critical peace of infrastructure than we thought. You can’t have online classes or work from home meetings if people don’t have a good internet connection, and to do both at the same time?

I think the rollout should be pushed by the government as a common good, as centrally planned, funded and managed infrastructure. I’ve written about it before, here [] and even revisited it here []. When I revisited the lack of broadband coverage, in 2017, I lamented how it seemed nothing had changed since I originally wrote about it in 2010. Well… guess what? It’s still shit.

I live in Singapore where we have a national broadband network, pumping high speed internet into nearly every house and small business. I still buy connectivity from a service provider, but what I’m really buying from them is the connection out to the wider world, the network from my house to the service providers is the same no matter who I purchase from. The idea is that broadband, like roads is a necessary part of the national infrastructure. When I leave my house and drive over the road to a shop or office the road is a common good connecting the two private locations. Good roads are a necessary part of the modern functioning economy. They are expensive and it makes sense that the government funds them centrally to ensure they reach everyone. The same is true of internet; connecting homes is expensive and it makes sense to let the government fund it to ensure it reaches everyone.

One benefit of the government managing the roads is planning. The Singapore government can encourage development in different areas through the management of the roads. Even in a place as small as Singapore you can see the effect of this when new roads are built, or more commonly, existing roads are widened or extended. Given, Singapore is a small place and managing infrastructure on the scale of the US is in a different league, look at roads in the US… but still I think it’s worth government investing in infrastructure for the common good. That includes bettering our investment in roads but also in new infrastructure requirements like broadband.

I should point out that Australia is also building a national broadband network, and it’s not going as swimmingly as it did in Singapore. Australia is much closer to the physical size of the US but only has a fraction of the population. So, yes, I expect it will be a much harder and longer process in the US. Dealing with federal, state and local governments and people and entrenched businesses. But we need to find the way. We got electricity to everyone only with a major governmental push after the private sector reached the point where it was not in business interest to push further. That was a hundred years ago. Broadband is the electricity of this century, and the US is falling behind. It was not until the 1950 after Eisenhower saw the benefit of good roads in Germany that we got the interstate highway system in the US. The same thing needs to happen now; take a look at the success of national broadband networks in places like Singapore and South Korea, and bring it back to the US.