Tuesday, August 23, 2005

National Broadband

There was a recent report about the US “falling behind” other countries in terms of broadband use. This has sparked a lot of interest and made a lot of people state the federal government needs to do more to make broadband more accessible for more Americans. This is yet another case of well-meaning people supporting a very bad idea. Here is a good rebuttal of the idea, but I have my own reasons for being against this.
One of the main ideas behind national broadband is that broadband is similar to public utilities such as electricity and telephone service. This will be the first idea I will debunk. The biggest problem with this idea is that there are exact functional equivalents to broadband – name dial-up service, but there is nothing similar for electricity or telephone service. Certainly another big problem is that it’s hard to compare web surfing and email to having your lights turned on or being able to call 911 in an emergency. It’s just not an accurate comparison, at least not yet.
Another big problem with nationalizing broadband access is that internet access in general is still an emerging technology. Do you know anybody who has had broadband at their home for more than ten years? Other technologies are emerging that could provide better service for less price, such as broadband over power lines and Wi-Fi/WiMax. These new technologies will not have a chance if they have to “compete” against government backed broadband (or government backed broadband providers.) Competition between existing broadband and emerging technologies will certainly lower costs for all and provide a test to see which technology is best. And of course there are probably other technologies that are even better that we haven’t heard of yet. These too would be stifled by a government backed broadband service.
So those are the more practical arguments against national broadband, but for me they aren’t even necessary. The big problem with national broadband is that eliminates choice. As soon as taxpayer money is being used to provide/subsidize broadband, then we’ve all had a choice of whether to use broadband or not taken away from us. Now I know there are countless other things like this already, but that’s no excuse to willingly give up another freedom.
Ultimately national broadband will mean yet another government agency to administer and manage either the actual the service, or the distribution of funds to subsidized providers. This only begs for more corruption and government backed monopolies. That’s always bad, but especially bad when it comes to a fast changing technology. You see, monopolies don’t like change and only have an interest in keeping the status quo.

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