Investing in America’s infrastructure

From The New York Times:

At first glance, perhaps no line item in the nearly $900 billion stimulus program under consideration on Capitol Hill would seem to offer a more perfect way to jump-start the economy than the billions pegged to expand broadband Internet service to rural and underserved areas.

Proponents say it will create jobs, build crucial infrastructure and begin to fulfill one of President Obama’s major campaign promises: to expand the information superhighway to every corner of the land, giving local businesses an electronic edge and offering residents a dazzling array of services like online health care and virtual college courses.

But experts warn that the rural broadband effort could just as easily become a $9 billion cyberbridge to nowhere, representing the worst kind of mistakes that lawmakers could make in rushing to approve one of the largest spending bills in history without considering unintended results.

"The first rule of technology investment is you spend time understanding the end user, what they need and the conditions under which they will use the technology," said Craig Settles, an industry analyst and consultant who has studied broadband applications in rural and urban areas.

Either the reporting is bad or Craig Settles doesn’t get it. UPDATE: offline conversation with Craig makes it clear the reporter didn’t put in his whole argument. Further details may follow.

This isn’t a tech investment but an infrastructure investment. The US doesn’t have "broad"band, it has broader than dial-up band.

Our allies and competitors understand communication networks, from highways to telephone to Internet, are essential to commerce, civics, and development. The US is one of the few industrialized countries yet to accept this.

There is a precedence here, in fact two: the rollout of telephone services across the nation eighty years ago and the development of the interstate highway system fifty years ago.

Don’t get mired in the "tech" debate or the "government must stay out" argument. This is an example of the need of government to push private industry (including in some cases municipal utilities) to stop watching the immediate bottom line and look toward longer term payoffs.

Increased efficiencies in the transmission of information, knowledge, and awareness is a win-win not zero-sum.

Are we an information economy or not?

2 Replies to “Investing in America’s infrastructure”

  1. Matt, while I agree that the US has to modernize its technological infrastructure, I’ve yet to see how increasing broadband accessibility will lead to a measurable increase in jobs. Other then the obvious job creation for civil engineers and construction workers (who are already getting plenty of help with the pledge for new roads and bridges), will increased download speeds allow a laid-off worker from GM, Starbucks or Merrill Lynch find new work? Maybe an individual who just lost their home could apply for bankruptcy on-line at twice the speed? Am I missing something?Moreover, just as we demand with strategic communications, having sound research about your target audience, as Settles suggests, is the best way to spend wisely with the greatest net effect on your objective.
    Increasing broadband accessibility should be a goal over the next 5-10 years, but perhaps this bill (which is intended to create jobs and boost the economy) is the wrong vehicle for that kind of change.

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