Building an Information Superhighway Without a Plan

After giving up on watching President Barack Obama’s inauguration online, I started thinking about how spoiled I am to be able to choose between watching the speech online or on a HD television set. More than 10 percent of Americans couldn’t watch a live stream, even in standard definition because they have no broadband access. Untold others would get extremely poor quality as they are on slow connections that just barely meet the basic federal definition of broadband at 768 kilobits per second.

Sure, the speech was broadcast on network television and via the radio so as many people as possible could hear. But when I consider the personalized viewing experience that Liz had over at NewTeeVee, it frustrates me that we’re still arguing over our broadband policy. I’ve written about why the government should get involved, a bit about what should be done and have reviewed several plans. We’ve even discussed the role the FCC should play.

The goal is to get the fastest pipes to the most people in the shortest amount of time. The current $6-8 billion offered as part of Obama’s recovery plan is a Band-Aid that doesn’t address the underlying problem: slow, expensive broadband that’s unevenly deployed across the nation. That problem keeps us lagging behind other developed nations in speed and pricing. To solve it we need to ensure competition and access before we offer tax credits to providers.

To make the market competitive, we need information on who has access to broadband, how fast that broadband is and what people pay for it. The market will still fail to deliver fat pipes to areas where offering service would be unprofitable, but before offering tax credits and incentives we need to know which locales (and local ISPs) need incentives, and which ISPs merely want them to offset costs they incur as part of an already planned roll out. Let’s not merely buy fiber. Let’s buy some knowledge and accountability.

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