Some­thing worth con­sid­er­ing is the avail­abil­ity of the Inter­net to US homes, and whether or not the gov­ern­ment should take part in pro­vid­ing acces­si­bil­ity to every res­i­dent in the United States. While we can look towards coun­tries such as Japan and South Korea as role mod­els in this area of tech­nol­ogy (every­one has access to the Inter­net there), the US has some major obsta­cles to over­come in order to have this imple­mented. Some of these obsta­cles are people-based, geo­graph­i­cal, tech­no­log­i­cal, edu­ca­tional, finan­cial, government-sanctioned monop­o­lies, and political.

From a recent arti­cle con­cern­ing the FCC’s stand­point at 247wallst.com:

The FCC main­tains that access to high-speed inter­net is not merely a con­ve­nience, but essen­tial to pro­vide a fair chance at a job and an edu­ca­tion, as well as to run a suc­cess­ful busi­ness. In a report released last year, the FCC main­tained, “approx­i­mately 26 mil­lion Amer­i­cans, mostly in rural com­mu­ni­ties located in every region of the coun­try, are denied access to the jobs and eco­nomic oppor­tu­nity made pos­si­ble by broad­band.” In mid-August, the USDA announced the pro­vi­sion of $103 mil­lion in fed­eral funds in 16 states to help develop broad­band net­works in rural com­mu­ni­ties. This is the lat­est in a series of efforts by the gov­ern­ment to pro­vide instal­la­tion and dis­counts for fam­i­lies, schools and small busi­nesses. -http://247wallst.com/2011/09/19/ten-states-that-cant-get-online/

This basi­cally sum­ma­rizes my views as to the use­ful­ness of the Inter­net, and how not hav­ing it impacts the gen­eral wel­fare of our soci­ety. I don’t think many peo­ple would dis­agree that it’s an impor­tant resource tool — much like the US pub­lic library sys­tem but bet­ter — more con­ve­nient and less costly to main­tain. It’s an essen­tial part of busi­ness and edu­ca­tion at this point, and one we can­not choose to ignore. The main ques­tion we face is whether or not the Inter­net should become a “right” — that is for every­one in this coun­try to have some level of “free” access to it. I would also go one step fur­ther and say that it’s not just the peo­ple in rural com­mu­ni­ties that suf­fer from a lack of access, it’s also a por­tion of the pop­u­la­tion within major cities as well.

Here are some of the obsta­cles our coun­try faces in rolling out a nation-wide Inter­net sys­tem run by the government:

People-based Obsta­cles

Ulti­mately, lay­ing Inter­net cable requires man­power. There’s sim­ply no get­ting around this fact. How­ever, in this econ­omy, I don’t there’s any short­age of peo­ple look­ing for work. I would have to say that the prob­lem has more to do with bureau­cracy — politi­cians and gov­ern­ment offi­cials often take their time when it comes to issues. The main prob­lem here is that there’s a cer­tain amount of trep­i­da­tion and lazi­ness involved in try­ing to get things accom­plished, and deal­ing with stub­born peo­ple like that only tends to com­pound this issue.

Geo­graph­i­cal Obstacles

Most of the areas that lack easy access to the Inter­net are largely inac­ces­si­ble due to geo­graph­i­cal bound­aries. You might have a home or a town in the mid­dle of farm coun­try or sur­rounded by moun­tains. Lay­ing cable through these areas is going to be costly. Send­ing wire­less sig­nals via tow­ers presents its own tech­ni­cal hur­dles. It also brings up the ques­tion as to whether or not the expen­di­tures are worth serv­ing just a few peo­ple in some remote area.

The other issue involved is one of geo­graph­i­cal com­par­i­son. It’s not fair for us to com­pare other coun­tries which have nation-wide access when they are the size of one or two US States. It’s def­i­nitely going to be eas­ier for them to imple­ment and main­tain a nation-wide pro­gram since their areas of cov­er­age are often smaller.

At the very least, it could be argued that peo­ple within major met­ro­pol­i­tan areas should have basic coverage.

Tech­no­log­i­cal Obstacles

We have the tech­nol­ogy to accom­plish con­nect­ing remote com­mu­ni­ties, but the qual­ity may not be the great­est. When it comes to wire­less, it’s just like a cell­phone sig­nal — you’re going to have areas that are inac­ces­si­ble or the qual­ity is weak. If the tech­nolo­gies related to sig­nals or satel­lite infor­ma­tion were to improve, this could improve acces­si­bil­ity and also lower costs. How­ever, in order to make this spoke of the wheel turn, com­pa­nies and the gov­ern­ment need to con­tin­u­ally invest in research and development.

As for cable, I’ve heard plenty of sto­ries where a cable com­pany doesn’t want to stretch a line down a mile of dri­ve­way for free. They often tell the home­owner that they need to pay for the costs, or get the com­mu­nity to chip-in. There’s still other options such as the old dialup modems, satel­lite, and DSL. All of these tech­nolo­gies have to be an option for a nation-wide sys­tem to work.

Edu­ca­tional Obstacles

If some­one doesn’t use the Inter­net, then there’s a good chance they don’t under­stand what they are miss­ing out on. Even if some­one does use it, there’s a good chance that they don’t fully under­stand the capa­bil­i­ties and pos­si­bil­i­ties. I would say that lat­ter encom­passes the major­ity of all politi­cians within the US. I hate to play the age-card, but the older a per­son is (and most politi­cians are middle-aged or older), often the less in touch they are with newer tech­no­log­i­cal trends — it’s a com­bi­na­tion of acces­si­bil­ity, pri­or­i­ties, health, and edu­ca­tion that fac­tors into it. Politi­cians are often too busy try­ing to get elected or pass­ing laws, that they hardly hop on the Inter­net other than to check Face­book sta­tuses, emails, and to buy the occa­sional pair of new shoes. To me, that’s not under­stand­ing the Inter­net, but using one very nar­row por­tion to get a few things done — this is about as accom­plished as walk­ing into a store or turn­ing on a tele­vi­sion and noth­ing beyond that.

There’s also a human cost — do we allow peo­ple eas­ier access to edu­ca­tional and finan­cial resources? Higher edu­ca­tion often trans­lates into lower crime rates. In a global econ­omy, a higher level of edu­ca­tion helps build the com­mu­ni­ties around us so that we are stronger and more pre­pared in case of emer­gen­cies. I think the finan­cial and busi­ness impact is self-explanatory, so I won’t go into fur­ther detail here.

Finan­cial Obstacles

Costs are going to be high — there’s no get­ting around it. But the way to look at it is that it’s an ini­tial out­lay of costs and each sub­se­quent repair or upgrade to the sys­tem should pro­gres­sively inex­pen­sive as time goes on. The sys­tem should also be a lot eas­ier to main­tain than our nation’s bridges and high­way system.

Peo­ple are always going to com­plain as to how some­thing of this nature impacts their taxes. They’re often more focused on their short-term gain, ver­sus some­thing which could neg­a­tively impact them­selves and their chil­dren sev­eral years later. It’s a very narrow-minded approach — sim­i­lar to putting a ban­dage on a large open wound ver­sus get­ting appro­pri­ate med­ical care.

In order to solve part of this issue, I think the Inter­net speeds need to be metered. If peo­ple want to, they can pay extra for higher speeds and larger down­loads, but at the very least, every­one should have basic access to it. Whether or not that’s pro­vided through gov­ern­ment or cor­po­ra­tions, that’s some­thing they can work out together.

Government-Sanctioned Monop­o­lies

When Cable Inter­net first came to my area, I talked with a few tech­ni­cians who were work­ing on my street. I asked a cou­ple of them, “what took so long?” They explained to me that the cable lines are run by the com­pa­nies, but the space is rented out by the town for a period of years. The var­i­ous cable com­pa­nies bid to have access to this space and in turn promise to main­tain it. Even if two com­pa­nies are pro­vid­ing Cable Inter­net ser­vice, only one com­pany can get into an area due to this allo­ca­tion of space and time, so it essen­tially forms a gov­ern­ment sanc­tioned monopoly.

Due to this long drawn-out process, cable com­pa­nies are afraid to make some tech­no­log­i­cal advances in the area unless there’s some sort of guar­an­tee that they will have it for a long period of time. Even then, the selected com­pany might think their ser­vice is “ade­quate enough”, so they may not have any drive to improve upon their ser­vices even if a com­peti­tor has a bet­ter offer­ing but is pre­vented from oper­at­ing. This can lead to much higher prices and prof­i­teer­ing, and in the end, the user has no choice but to use them because there’s no alter­na­tive. It’s some­thing that all of us expe­ri­ence, but most often don’t under­stand. We often think that these cable com­pa­nies are being cap­i­tal­is­tic, but in essence they are oper­at­ing much like a monopoly.

It’s true that other com­pa­nies have devel­oped and offered alter­na­tive ser­vices such as DSL and satel­lite, but most of them have had to because they don’t have any choice when it comes to the way towns operate.

The sys­tem is very sim­i­lar to the way land-line phone car­ri­ers oper­ate — gen­er­ally you could only get one tele­phone car­rier in an area. Same with cable tele­vi­sion, gas, and elec­tric. When higher-speed Inter­net came about, it fol­lowed the same rules which in many ways is ineffective.

If these cable providers are to con­tinue to oper­ate, there needs to be a tiered approach. First there needs to be basic gov­ern­ment access to all. The gov­ern­ment will prob­a­bly have to com­pen­sate them for some of their infra­struc­ture main­te­nance and enhance­ments, or the gov­ern­ment needs to cre­ate a new orga­ni­za­tion within Pub­lic Works that han­dles these issues. The basic con­nec­tion doesn’t have to be fast, but it needs to be avail­able. Sec­ondly, the cable com­pa­nies could pro­vide a bet­ter offer­ing that costs con­sumers. Either way, I believe there needs to be some basic level of access for every­one and there also needs to be com­pe­ti­tion in order to pro­mote tech­no­log­i­cal advancement.

Polit­i­cal Obstacles

I’ve men­tioned pol­i­tics in sev­eral areas above, mostly because all of the above are inter­twined issues. Vot­ers tend to drive decision-making processes through their elected offi­cials, how­ever vot­ers are not nec­es­sar­ily always the sharpest tools in the shed. The aver­age user under­stands the basics, and is often slow to adapt to newer tech­no­log­i­cal trends. They don’t always under­stand the intri­ca­cies of an issue, nor the poten­tial impact a deci­sion might have. Most peo­ple are con­cerned with the imme­di­ate prob­lem of putting food on the table, and not what’s going to hap­pen five years from now. I’m not try­ing to put any­one down, but this is just the way soci­ety and human nature gen­er­ally tends to work.

Just like all pol­i­tics, politi­cians gen­er­ally try to cater to what the peo­ple want. The politi­cians them­selves might not even be well-informed. Instead of doing what would be con­sid­ered unpop­u­lar and right, they’ll do some­thing pop­u­lar and short-sighted so that they don’t look bad.  As a result, or laws and soci­ety is slow to adapt and change, even if it’s a pos­i­tive change for our own well-being and survival.

If a politi­cian even dares men­tion this, there’s a good chance they will be attacked and labeled for it. I’m pos­i­tive peo­ple will call it a form of social­ism. The ironic thing is that I don’t think any­one within the US thinks that coun­tries such as South Korea and Japan are social­ists. It’s just a method of name call­ing — a scare tactic.

This whole argu­ment goes back to edu­ca­tion. The only way we can move for­ward is by dis­cussing issues such as this, and weigh­ing the poten­tial pos­i­tives and negatives.

In Sum­mary

If you read this arti­cle, I think you could eas­ily guess where I stand. I’m very much in favor of hav­ing a sys­tem in place in which every­one can have some level of basic access to the Inter­net. Inter­net access should become a basic right that ties in with edu­ca­tion — much like water and elec­tric­ity should be for the gen­eral well-being of our soci­ety. The only way to get this accom­plished is to take out the com­po­nent of greed in this equa­tion and let­ting the gov­ern­ment work on this sys­tem — much like how our nation’s sys­tem of “social­ist” high­ways was rolled out over 50 years ago (which iron­i­cally, no one com­plains about.) I think I’ve described the prob­lem with the cur­rent sys­tem and how cap­i­tal­ism isn’t effec­tive in cer­tain sit­u­a­tions (see the Gov­ern­ment Sanc­tioned Monop­o­lies sec­tion above.)

Of course, I always enjoy hear­ing other people’s opin­ions on the mat­ter. There’s always a pos­si­bil­ity that I could be swayed into think­ing differently.

cleo

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