Sunday, January 25, 2009

At the broadband trough

Unsurprisingly, Jeff Jarvis and a host of online media guys are mounting a call for government subsidies for broadband expansion. I think there's a place for that, but not nearly the place they want to carve out.

Public spending on infrastructure is generally a good thing in my book, one of the bedrock things government should do for people because it doesn't always happen on its own -- even in a free-market utopia. Honest libertarians excepted, I don't hear anybody making a principled call for private sector interstate highways, for instance.

That's why I agree that making broadband available where it's not now – rural areas, mainly, including much of Alaska – is a good thing. (Disclosure: I own a house without a good broadband source in the Sierra Nevada foothills; this would be good for me.)

But should the government be spending billions on delivering services that are already generally available and likely to get much better on their own?

Seth Hansell in the NYT Bits Blog makes a pretty good for why generic broadband subsidy is probably a bad, wasteful idea.

Here's a taste of the argument:

... as I look at it, the noise about a broadband gap is hooey. With new cable modem technology becoming available, 19 out of 20 American homes eventually will be able to have Internet service that is faster than any available now anywhere in the world. And that’s without one new cable being laid.

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