As negotiations in Congress on the stimulus bill are nearing the final stage, some attention is being given to the parts of the competing bills aimed at increasing access to broadband. The final numbers on the broadband provisions will probably come in around $6-$7 billion, which in the context of a massive $800 billion+ package doesn’t seem like much. But is it really worth it?
Most of the money is slated to come in the form of tax breaks for companies that expand the reach of their broadband and improve their networks to deliver better speeds to the end user. Laudable goals, but should taxpayers really foot the bill to subsidize work that companies would likely perform anyway? There are provisions in both the House and Senate proposals that would open the door for new companies to become involved in delivering broadband and encourage more openness and innovation – which would be a great thing for those of us who would like to see such things.
But this just points out a larger problem. Where is there a national communications policy? If these proposals go through we may get more and faster broadband and many under-served communities may have access they lacked before, but how are they going to connect? Who’s going to buy them the computers or mobile devices they need to truly take advantage? How will they afford the cost of service?
Without an overall plan to improve our communications infrastructure and address the barriers to access that exist, there’s little hope that this “broadband stimulus” will have much effect. What we need is far more sweeping change that recognizes openness and access as rights instead of priveleges.