A $40 Billion, Three Year Broadband Plan

by: Matt Stoller

Wed Dec 17, 2008 at 23:48

Do Any Progressives Actually Know How to Spend $700 Billion?  The Pentagon does.  Wall Street does.  But in fact, almost no one alive today remembers what it is like to spend huge sums of money to engage in non-corrupt domestic spending on behalf of socially just infrastructure.  It's been a long time since the New Deal, or even Eisenhower's build-out of the highway system.  Fortunately, there are some smart people thinking about it in the context of broadband.  Progressive group Free Press just released a $40 billion plan that should over three years increase broadband speeds, lower prices, and expand access to everyone in the country.  You can read the plan here.

The basic difference between this plan and the rest you'll read is that this one looks at the problem of broadband not just in terms of access or speed, but in terms of access, speed, and value.  That is, it attempts to answer the question of why 40% of the country chooses not to buy broadband and exempts itself from the 21st century empowerment tool.  The plan offers a mix of direct grants through existing government agencies that work (like the Universal Service Fund) and tax credits to encourage competition and the build out of 100MB plus networks that are open and neutral.

I'm still learning more about the plan, since spending lots of money is a problem I'm not used to thinking about.  My sense though is that $38 billion over three years should be a floor, not an estimate.  I've heard that $100-200B would upgrade our networks to South Korean speeds; we should be asking for that.  I also would argue that the government should just build out the networks directly; with AT&T cutting capital spending, tax credits around depreciation are just not going to work as well as they would in non-deflationary environments.  We need direct spending.

Still, this is a very positive step for progressives.  It's actually a plan to spend lots of money wisely on something that will universalize access to information, and therefore, power.

Matt Stoller :: A $40 Billion, Three Year Broadband Plan

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Priorities: Upgrade the backbone, provide universal low-cost high-speed access (0.00 / 0)
Real Internet access requires a faster backbone - city to city, with appropriate off-ramps around the country.

We need some goals for appropriate speeds, such as:
1) HDTV quality over Internet
2) Video teleconferencing for all
3) Easiest possible telecommuting

Such access would have side effects such as reduced airline travel (as is already happening at business levels)

Of course, there's the other end, which I believe should include:

1) Free 802.11n-level wireless access in sufficiently dense urban areas
2) Fiber to the home (Fiber over Ethernet) - which would provide scalable fiber-optic cable access to appropriate adapters (inaccurately known as modems)
3) Possibly a long term goal of affordable 3g-level nationwide networks

We may also need a successor to TCP/IP (the current Internet communication protocols), but I wouldn't support it unless any successor is sufficiently network neutral (TCP/IP is pretty good in that respect).

I look forward to reading this (4.00 / 1)
I'm currently involved in an online planning process of about 20-30 people with a range of expertise to develop a set of proposals whose initial goal will be to bring fiber optics to millions of underserved small towns and even rural areas. So far, the group is generating some very innovative and exciting ideas, and we're still bringing in new "talent."

Though I only looked very briefly at the Free Press executive summary, my sense is that what our group will propose will be even more progressive and aggressive than what FP seems to be proposing, but also very doable.  But we're not there yet, so its too early to tell how the two approaches will relate to each other (and, of course, I've yet to read the FP plan).

Now that I'm aware of it, I'll make a point of sharing the FP plan with the members of this online collaboration.  I'm sure it has some good ideas we haven't yet considered.

There's a lot of good progressive thinking about broadband percolating out there and, in my view, strategic investments in broadband (both on the "supply/deployment" and "demand/application" front) are a perfect fit with an Obama agenda and the current need for stimulus spending.  The question, of course, is how best to do it.  Figuring that out is one of the rare opportunities we face at this pivotal point in our history.

Solid plan (0.00 / 0)
but Free Press and other progressive groups need to think bigger. This plan could be up to 1 trillion dollars. They should be fighting for a $100-200B so that we get something even better then what they are now proposing.

John McCain: Beacuse lobbyists should have more power

Also (4.00 / 1)
according to CWA every 5 billion invested in broadband creates 100,000 new jobs. A 100 billion investment could create 2 million jobs. That would be a simple campaign with numbers that are easy to understand.  

John McCain: Beacuse lobbyists should have more power

[ Parent ]
A Co-Op Business Model (4.00 / 1)
I'd like to suggest people go back and look at the REA as a possible business model that could be adapted to current and future needs.  

REA -- Rural Electrification Administration, (ya'all will learn New Deal Speak eventually) dealt with the failure of the private power industry to drop supply lines into rural America before the Great Depression, on grounds that there were inadequate consumers to pay for the infrastructure.  What it involved was local areas forming co-op's owned by those who would eventually use the electricity, which received the REA funds to plant poles and string lines, and then bought power from a variety of sources -- in some cases combined it with what they could generate -- and sold it to consumers on a cost plus eventual retirement of the debt to the Government (REA Administration) for the infrastructure.  After debt was retired, Co-op members were able to benefit in small ways from income from local co-ops.


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