Thursday, May 20

Who needs broadband? Uh... everyone.

A recent Scientific American article outlines the National Broadband Plan and asks the question, "Who needs high-speed broadband". The answer is, a lot more people than need digital TV. 

Ok, maybe 100 Mbps for rural and 1 Gbps might be a little high, but what can we do with such a network?  It means we can forget cable, satellite, and over-air TV; all content can be available 24x7 anywhere you have a connection.  It also means we(the US) will have wasted billions on subsidizing digital tuners so our population can hook their brain into a device that does little more than transfer garbage shows, mindless entertainment, and a solid stream of marketing directly into our brains.

Look, I own a TV, I like watching it.  I like a few shows, and there are some sports that I really love to watch.  However, do not be fooled, there is very little value in TV and it exists in it's current form for the single purpose of providing a medium to sell you stuff.  The actual shows haven't been the point of TV since cable started allowing advertisements(remember when the idea of cable was to pay some money so you could watch tv without commercials).

Instead, we could have spent that money on a reasonable intermediary goal for this National Broadband Plan.  There are plenty of Americans who live in rural areas and don't have access to the kind of speeds that city dwellers get on their iPhone.  If they are willing to shell out $80 a month they can get a marginally faster connection via satellite but it barely qualifies as high speed.  Instead of worrying about 100Mbps, why not get them to 1Mbps and then go from there?

So, why is broadband any more worthy of a place to spend money than digital TV?  It's simple... the value of interaction on the internet is higher than TV.  Can you buy and sell stocks with just your TV?  Can you work from home via your TV?  Can your business actually sell a single product using the TV alone?  The answer to all of those is, by itself, no.  Sure there's QVC where you can buy something you don't need for the "low, low price" of 400% of what it cost to build, but you need a phone or the internet to actually make the transaction.  I'm not really in favor of the government spending money on it, but if they are going to be spending money on something, they should be spending it on something that makes sense.

Is advertising a major part of the internet?  Of course it is.  It is just as much of an advertising tool, if not more so, than TV.  But the point is, that is all TV is good for.  There are so many more uses for ubiquitous broadband that, if federal money is going to be spent on entertainment, it should not even be a contest as to where it goes.  Yet, the 2009 budget allotted over half a million for coupons so everyone could get their TV fix via 1s and 0s. 

Why does this matter to me?  I work from home.  I love working from home.  I also love living in a rural area.  Broadband internet provides a lifeline for me to be able to live where I want, work at a job I love, and not spend 4 hours a day commuting.  If you want an initiative that can, in and of itself, provide a single means of making the world a better place right now, using broadband to allow a greater number of people to work from home is it.  What would happen if the number of people on the road at rush hour were reduced by 10, 20, maybe even 30 percent?  What would happen if we spent less time commuting to work and more time either actually doing work or spending time with our families?  What if you weren't forced to live in a certain area because your job uprooted you?

From an environmental perspective, less cars means less pollution, less wear and tear on roads, less accidents, and lower oil consumption.  I've done the mass transit thing in arguably one of the best systems in the US.  If we're honest with ourselves, it's not the panacea everyone likes to think it is because the majority of the population is on the outside looking in.  It's ok, better than driving every day, but it's still a huge amount of time spent in a non-optimal work environment, away from my family.  It's costly, insecure, and prone to delay because of weather or other break downs which cost companies millions in lost work time.  Additionally, I've never in my life been as sick as often as when I rode that train every day.  Mass transit is an epidemic waiting to happen.  All that and it still requires some form of energy, either electricity or other, to run.  It's creating pollution somewhere, maybe less than an equivalent number of cars, but it's still a problem.

While we may not need 100Mbps now, eventually the time will arise when we will need that kind of capacity.  We shouldn't allow current need to be a barrier to working hard on getting broadband to every area of the country as soon as we possibly can.   If that means we stop tearing up perfectly good roads so DOT workers get a paycheck and the job creation statistics go up, so be it.  They can lay fiber optic cable instead of asphalt and spend their time on moving forward rather than supporting the legacy operating environment. There is simply no better infrastructure investment that can affect a wider array of issues we experience today than this.

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Nathan Nifong said...

If your content to live in a rural area and work from home, why don't you just move to a country like Norway where federal spending reflects your needs?

Michael Nishizawa said...

Well, the whole idea of moving to a rural area is to live near my family. Besides, I'm not giving up on the USA just yet. It's a good point though.