Is internet access necessary infrastructure?
This week, the House of Representatives approved legislation from Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) that would make it harder for cities to build publicly-owned broadband networks. The proposal is a shot at Federal Communications Commission chairman Tom Wheeler, who wants to remove state-level restrictions on municipal networks; Blackburn’s legislation would forbid the FCC from removing those restrictions. This is the latest escalation of a long-running war between municipal broadband supporters and incumbent broadband companies that have relentlessly opposed municipal broadband proposals.
The GOP doesn’t want municipalities to be doing what they consider private business. They don’t view it so much as limiting local power but protecting the rights of businesses and preventing the expansion of government into businesses. They don’t view it as sustainable for government to compete with the private sector when it comes to staying on the cutting edge of internet access.
They haven’t come to the realization that internet access is necessary infrastructure to do business in this day in age. Much like how we need electricity, water/sewage, and streets in order for people to do business. Either they’re not making the connection or they’re being paid by internet services providers to not make that connection. Are our roads, sewers, electric grid, etc. perfect? No. Are they on the cutting edge? No. Are they providing the necessary infrastructure for the United States to support communities and businesses? Yes.
As long as the economy is weak, politicians will hesitate taking on corporations who will wage the PR battle of job losses caused by political decisions. The corporations are more readily armed to effectively make the case of governments getting bigger and killing private sector jobs. Especially because people employed by those companies will be the biggest criers in public. It’s harder to sell that infrastructure investment means hiring private contractors and creating new businesses because those are things that will happen in the future… and don’t yet have voices.
Maybe the thought process is deeper and more insidious. Maybe the GOP has realized that opening every poor rural and urban market to the competition of the internet means that local businesses will be undercut by larger businesses with better economies of scale and more efficient business models. Maybe they realize because of that each individual and each individual family will make the decision that makes more economic sense to them in a down economy. They’ll buy the same goods for cheaper prices than what the local businesses can provide.
Instead of money staying in the communities with local taxes and local employees and owners recirculating the money within the community, the profits from the transactions go to the businesses online, to their communities, to their shareholders, etc. Does the GOP realize that the free market principles they hold so dear can sink entire villages, towns, cities, counties, etc.? Is that the fear? Does it threaten the pedestal that American politicians have put the poor rural vulnerable American farmer on? Does it threaten to expose the income disparity within our cities with our urban poor?
Are all of our politicians scared to admit their lack of positive mechanisms to promote small and medium size businesses? What have either side of the aisle done to help them? When the United States sits 29th on broadband speed with massive sections of our country not having coverage, how can we possibly compete with other countries? There’s no denying that we compete globally for business. There’s no denying planes, trains, boats, and trucks have enabled goods to come from all over to end up on our shores. As the Euro and sterling continue to outpace the dollar, are we harming our country be failing to provide it the necessary infrastructure it needs to compete because we’re too scared to admit our flaws in our cities and our flaws in idealizing rural America? Ask the questions. Demand the answers.