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Government Power The Internet United States Technology

Broadband Rights & the Killer App of 1900 565

newscloud writes "Tech writer Glenn Fleishman compares the arguments against affordable, high speed, broadband Internet access in each home to arguments made against providing for common access to electricity in 1900 e.g. '...electric light is not a necessity for every member of the community. It is not the business of any one to see that I use electricity, or gas, or oil in my house, or even that I use any form of artificial light at all.' Says Fleishman, 'Electricity should go to people who had money, not hooked up willy-nilly to everyone ... Like electricity, the notion of whether broadband is an inherent right and necessity of every citizen is up for grabs in the US. Sweden and Finland have already answered the question: It's a birthright.'"
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Broadband Rights & the Killer App of 1900

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  • by eldavojohn ( 898314 ) * <eldavojohn AT gmail DOT com> on Monday December 14, 2009 @10:02AM (#30430408) Journal
    The thing about electricity is that people couldn't see that it would service more than just lights. But there were a few people out there (like Edison's lab and Tesla) that could see innumerable uses awaiting. The people just couldn't comprehend it or were rightfully dubious. I mean, traveling scam artists were well known to people at the time (probably even far before) just look at what Mark Twain was writing a decade before [].

    If we follow through with this analogy the solution is simple, you merely need to tell us about and convince us that the "inalienable right to broadband" will indeed herald a new era of empowerment--or at least will be easily worth the cost it's going to take getting an infrastructure up that will cover the nation. Unless you have some WAN technology I don't know about or are accepting the issues of broadband over power, I think it's hard to convince someone that a traditional infrastructure covering--say--all of the Ozarks is going to be worth a whole lot more than the few towns and cities in it that are already covered. And you'd be out of your mind to ask a taxpayer in the farmlands to subsidize via tax dollars some infrastructure their not going to gain anything from.
  • Sounds familiar (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Nursie ( 632944 ) on Monday December 14, 2009 @10:03AM (#30430418)

    Seems to be some folks attitude to universal healthcare too.

    It's a good job that these people usually get overridden in the end.

  • You need not go back to electricity; phones will do. We have already decided that communications are something we need to deliver to everyone, and the internet is the new communications medium.

    Arguably, the government should stop promoting television and radio, and should put the effort into figuring out how to make the emergency notification network work on the internet... railroading connections and returning "DISASTER IN PROGRESS" errors, whatever. Then we could [eventually] reclaim all spectrum used by broadcast media for a more noble use: bidirectional communications permitting collaboration between humans. It's not like the shitty ol' push media can't be distributed via internet.

  • by elrous0 ( 869638 ) * on Monday December 14, 2009 @10:17AM (#30430522)
    Advocates for public education once had to deal with basically the same arguments. And, it's certainly true that a free basic education is not a necessity in the same way that food, water, and shelter are--but very few today would dispute that it's a necessity in the sense that, without it, an individual is at a serious disadvantage in life. It's the same with the internet. Sure, you don't NEED it, but it's going to be very hard to live a normal life in an industrialized country in the future WITHOUT at least basic access to it.
  • by Nautical Insanity ( 1190003 ) on Monday December 14, 2009 @10:17AM (#30430526)

    let's compare when we threw money at corporations to upgrade our infrastructure to when we did it ourselves. []

  • by Fished ( 574624 ) <> on Monday December 14, 2009 @10:25AM (#30430620)

    Part of the problem here is that the language of "right" doesn't really capture what we ought to be capturing here. Webster's defines a right as "something to which one has a just claim." And that is the right way to look at things like employment discrimination, etc.

    But when we start talking about universal access to services like broadband, healthcare, electric, I think it's much better to speak of it in terms of what's best for society. Simply put, our society as a whole is better off with a healthy work-force. Businesses will have more predictable costs, and the playing field between large and small companies, as well as government, will be leveled substantially, promoting innovation. Likewise, it promotes economic development for everyone to have electricity, not to mention public health--it's no accident that regular bathing became much more popular once everyone had a water heater. And, in a democracy, isn't the publics access to information equally vital? Isn't the ability for all members of society to communicate on a somewhat equal footing a useful social function? In other words, let's not talk about this as a moral question, but as a pragmatic one.

    High speed Internet is infrastructure. Maybe it's not a "right". But if you don't have it available to all of our population and all of your competitors do, then watch out!

  • by StellarFury ( 1058280 ) on Monday December 14, 2009 @10:41AM (#30430828)

    In Europe, your countries tend to be roughly the size of a larger state in the US. You simply don't have the same geographic and logistic issues of deploying infrastructure that exist in the US.

  • by FriendlyPrimate ( 461389 ) on Monday December 14, 2009 @10:49AM (#30430912)
    The libertarian side of me says that maybe providing broadband to all isn't necessarily a good thing. Likewise, maybe providing electricity to all back in 1900 wasn't necessarily good either. In the end, we didn't just provide poor people in the country with power. Instead, we provided an incentive for people to move out into the country, leading to sprawl, demand for more roads, foreign dependence on oil, etc... From a pure efficiency point-of-view, living in the city is much more efficient than living in the country. So providing all these services to the country leads to a very inefficient system. One of the reasons why infrastructure in cities is falling apart is because we use all of our resources building infrastructure out to every rural corner of the country, when really we should be concentrating on putting our resources where it affects the most the cities.
  • by MacAnkka ( 1172589 ) on Monday December 14, 2009 @11:28AM (#30431360)

    "vast frozen wastelands"? Really?

    You must be confused. We are talking about Northern Europe, not the North Pole. While it does get a little bit chilly and snowy in the Northern Finland during the winter, it's very much habitable.

    Most of Finnish population outside the main capital area and the other few big "cities" (more like towns, really...) is quite well spread around the countryside. Yet we don't see the idea of providing fast internet access for everyone as an impossible task. Stop crying that it's impossible and that your problems are somehow unique in this world and try to do something about it.

  • by kalirion ( 728907 ) on Monday December 14, 2009 @11:31AM (#30431402)

    The government lacks the legitimate moral authority to confiscate an individual's property to provide that property to someone else.

    Tell that to the people who lose their homes through "Eminent Domain" so that Walmarts can be built their places.

  • I think that works if there's no inherent advantage to having the broadband over not having it.

    Here in the UK if you file your tax return online you have extra time to get it in (the postal deadline is earlier), and while you don't need a broadband connection to do that you do actually need an internet connection. Government services having an advantage if done over the net is hardly a reason to subsidise internet for everyone, and we're not quite there yet with internet being required for a "standard" life, but I think it will get that way.

    At the very least, those middle-of-nowhere towns do have electricity and water. If TV, radio and electronics are going to go the way of the net and become as ubiquitous as electricity then I think you at least need to provide a minimum broadband (or otherwise 'always on' connection) to the bulk of your population.

    It doesn't have to be 100Mbps fibre, but it should at least allow them to download software updates and stream low-res media without hour-long delays.

    There are clearly compromises to both lifestyles, but as long as you don't take it to extremes and demand a huge pipe into your population:12 town then I can't see a problem with it.

  • by Shakrai ( 717556 ) on Monday December 14, 2009 @11:41AM (#30431556) Journal

    Are you seriously suggesting that the solution is that everyone just move to the city, and anyone who doesn't is either wanting to be subsidized for their lifestyle or should be forced to pay more for basic utilities?

    Yes, if you want to live in rural areas you should be prepared to pay the full cost of doing so. It's bullshit to expect other people to give you money for free.

    Have you ever stopped to consider the fact that some industries only exist in rural areas? Farming and agriculture, for example, is not going to happen in urban areas.

    Then why don't the farmers charge more money for their product so they can pay for their higher utility costs? Why have the government step in as a middle man?

    Economics, education, opportunity, feasibility of certain industries, security and yes sometimes cultural inclinations are among the many factors of why someone would live in rural areas.

    Preaching to the choir. I grew up in a rural area and desire to move back to one. I just don't desire to have other people subsidize my expenses when I do so.

    To say we can solve the problem by everyone moving out of rural areas is just boneheaded.

    Fortunately I didn't say that. I just said you should be prepared to pay the full cost of living in the community you choose. Should rural areas pay some subsidies to city folks so they don't have to drop insane amounts of money paying for parking?

  • by DaveAtFraud ( 460127 ) on Monday December 14, 2009 @11:45AM (#30431612) Homepage Journal

    While true in some economically depressed areas, there are quite a few areas in the States where people choose to live to "get away from it all" (noise, pollution, crime, etc.) that are "out in the sticks" but not economically depressed. These seem to be the people who make the most noise about wanting broadband, paved roads, no critters eating their vegetable gardens, rapid emergency response, schools that teach advanced topics and not just agricultural subjects, etc. That is, they want all of the conveniences of city life while living in the country and they want the other rate payers to subsidize their lifestyle choice to make it happen.

    I won't argue the merits of government intervention to provide additional services for disadvantaged areas. I will argue against blindly building out broadband given the above. Also, there are options such as satellite services that don't require any build out and are available regardless of location.

    BTW, I live in an area (Colorado near Denver) where this debate keeps coming up. People keep moving out into what were once small farming communities to "get away from it all" but then make all sorts of noise because they still want some of the things that they didn't realize that they were also "getting away from." And, of course, they want the other rate payers to help them pay for it.


  • by IndustrialComplex ( 975015 ) on Monday December 14, 2009 @11:45AM (#30431620)

    Well, when a significant portion of your population is becoming temporarily and/or permanently useless thanks to vice-related illnesses, the decision not to tax certain vices can become an anti-subsidy of its own.

    Wait, whose population? I'm still very much independant and since no one owns me, I'd like to continue to decide what is best for me.

    How much does the government own of me? Can I buy it back? May I not accept your generosity and therefore be exempt from your decision that I'm costing you too much money?

  • by mrisaacs ( 59875 ) on Monday December 14, 2009 @12:14PM (#30432012)

    As a native of NY (and a past resident of Missouri) I'm always amazed at how everyone thinks the entire state has the population density of NYC, Westchester or LI. Most of the population lives in less than 1/3 of the land area, and a good portion of the rest is clustered along the Thruways. Most of NY has population densities closer to the great plains or the west. And it may not be the Rockies, but it's not flat. Getting cable, DSL or fiber in some parts of the state is either next to impossible for fiendishly expensive, unless you're lucky enough to have a neighbor who paid for extending the trunk into your area.

    As far as European population densities, most Americans do seem to think that the whole continent is like London, Paris or Frankfurt. I lived in Germany for 2 years and traveled extensively - there are lots of relatively unpopulated areas, and a lot of terrain that would pose challenges to power and comm networks, even in some of the most densely populated areas. So the usual arguments don't not hold up.

  • by IndustrialComplex ( 975015 ) on Monday December 14, 2009 @12:16PM (#30432040)

    Vice taxes don't deter vices. They just cause more problems down the line. So now a particular subset of the population not only is addicted, but also is poor and perhaps driven to crime. Taxes are simply a means of revenue in this case, since the demand is inelastic due to addiction.

    They are an insidious way to implement a tax hike as well.

    Vice taxes cause the government to be dependant on the 'vice' activity, and thus the government has a vested interest in keeping that line of revenue open. It is why I oppose the 'Legalize it, Tax it' mantra that gets spread around regarding a certain product. I prefer to simply stop at the first goal.

    What happens when your 'vice' is ended? Too often, vice taxes are used to fund activities unrelated to the ending of the vice, and therefore, if that revenue stream ends, then the government finds that it is now overbudget, and must either run a debt or raise taxes on everyone.

    It is a convenient way to disguise a planned general tax hike and make it more palatable by targeting it at an 'unliked' minority. Then, either the minority continues to exist and pay extra taxes, or it ceases to exist, and the government is now overbudget.

  • by operagost ( 62405 ) on Monday December 14, 2009 @12:47PM (#30432406) Homepage Journal
    Gee... maybe we shouldn't have those. Socialism seems to be the cause of, and solution to, all of life's problems (like beer; thanks Homer Simpson).
  • Re:Sounds familiar (Score:3, Interesting)

    by ElectricTurtle ( 1171201 ) on Monday December 14, 2009 @12:55PM (#30432534)
    There's a word for this... 'slavery'. What a great plan to make each generation a slave to the last generation, forced to pay for others' needs by the power of the state. Maybe we can amend the Constitution to clarify the 13th Amendment so that we all understand that slavery is ok so long as when we get older we're guaranteed to pass from 'slave' status to 'master' status... all we have to do is buy our freedom by having children and then we can pass the mantle of state-enforced servitude onto them.
  • Re:Sounds familiar (Score:3, Interesting)

    by thePowerOfGrayskull ( 905905 ) <.marc.paradise. .at.> on Monday December 14, 2009 @01:49PM (#30433256) Homepage Journal

    Being forced to purchase insurance, the insurance is paid for by your employer whether you want it or not. Want to get out of it and take the extra cash? Sorry, the employer's rates are contingent upon all employees being enrolled.

    Every employer I've had has offered the option of health care, from the largest to the smallest. I'm sure there are some cases where what you describe holds true, but it's certainly not the rule.

    Freedom of choice constrained (try to go to an out of network doctor

    My insurance covers 80% of out of network, and 100% in-network. In addition, I have thousands of doctors and hospitals to choose from in network. Note also that choice doesn't always mean "you get to do anything you damned please". beyond that, I also have multiple plans available - both the subsidized insurance plans my job offers, and the unsubsidized ones I can get independently.

    The same cost for one kid or eight? Once again we have that now.

    Um, no. All the plans I'm familiar with will add to your premium for each kid, though there may be an upper limit on how much it will increase.

    but could you please try to put some thought into what you write before you spew such easily refutable garbage.


Receiving a million dollars tax free will make you feel better than being flat broke and having a stomach ache. -- Dolph Sharp, "I'm O.K., You're Not So Hot"