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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