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.

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