Citizens Against Public Waste Call Broadband a Luxury Not a Necessity

Technically I agree with Mr. William’s assertion that broadband services (Internet access and video services) are not a necessity…currently.  Sending and receiving e-mail or posting the satisfaction of your latest latté are not necessities nor are they guaranteed in our Constitution.  Then again neither is health care, but it now considered a human right so the current administration saw it fit to make sure that every citizen has it.

Electricity was not considered a necessity at the beginning of the twentieth century, but many communities saw its utility to stimulate their economy.  Now electricity IS a necessity because there are several life-sustaining devices that require electricity to operate.  Citizens subsidize the rates of the poor and elderly to provide them electricity.  Telephone service suffered the same fate.  It transformed from being a luxury to a matter of public safety;  thus, the Universal Service Fund.

Now we are undergoing the same debate on broadband services.  We are at the point on the adoption curve where it is going beyond a toy for nerds and geeks to playing a vital role in the economic vitality of a community.  The economic and social benefits of broadband services are well documented which bring it beyond the point of being called a luxury for the rich.  Communities should decide on the local level whether they would like to expend funds to build a broadband network if they feel that the incumbent service providers are not doing a satisfactory job.  Remember that much like water, roads, sewer, and electricity, the market for broadband services is not typically competitive in most communities.  There are typically one or two different service providers in a community.

Many communities are struggling to keep businesses and citizens in their community.  They seek ways to drive economic activity and a good broadband network is one way to accomplish that goal.  The most successful communities in this endeavor are not actually providing services, but offer open-access to any service provider that wants to sell services in their community.  The service provider purchases access from the municipality which supports the operation, maintenance, and growth of the networks.  Some communities are even seeing a net positive flow into their general fund;  therefore, building a broadband network can be done without wasteful government spending.  Before you know it, broadband networks will be necessity for the health, eduction, and safety of its citizens. Staff,

WASHINGTON, July 29, 2010 – Speaking in a webcast by the Broadband Policy Series this afternoon, David Williams of Citizens Against Public Waste said that there “wouldn’t be any circumstances in which government should step in” where community broadband is concerned. According to Williams, even when local governments step in, there tends to be a centralizing process by which one locality wants the same services as another locality, thus evolving the process to a Federal level.

“You get that spiraling ladder where everyone wants what everyone else has,” Williams said.

Williams also directly assailed one of the assumptions underlying the National Broadband Plan – namely, that broadband was required as a necessity in the modern economy. “Broadband is not a utility. It is a luxury, it is not a necessity for towns or households,” Williams said. “I would absolutely disagree [with the assessment of the National Broadband Plan].”

The comments, which came after a brief interview with Rep. Rick Boucher (D-VA), sparked a heated discussion among the panelists, most of whom disagreed with Williams’ position on universal access.

“The notion that broadband isn’t a necessity is not going to work anymore,” said Harold DePriest of Chattanooga Electric PoweR Board. “If we’re going to compete with the world, broadband is going to have to be a utility.”

Christopher Mitchell of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance agreed. “I would echo the comments about this being a necessity. We can stipulate that there are people who do not need broadband. There are probably people who’d be fine without households. But for a community to succeed in this time, they need broadband. From a community perspective, it’s absolutely a necessity.”

Mitchell also dismissed concerns about public sector community broadband providers crowding out private sector competition. “How many millions of dollars have libraries robbed Borders and Barnes and Noble?” Mitchell asked.

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About Mark Milliman

Mark Milliman is a Principal Consultant at Inphotonics Research driving the adoption and assisting local governments to plan, build, operate, and lease access open-access municipal broadband networks. Additionally, he works with entrepreneurs and venture capitalists to increase the value of their intellectual capital through the creation of strategic product plans and execution of innovative marketing strategies. With more than 22 years of experience in the telecommunications industry that began at AT&T Bell Laboratories, Mark has built fiber, cable, and wireless networks around the world to deliver voice, video, and data services. His thorough knowledge of all aspects of service delivery from content creation to the design, operation, and management of the network is utilized by carriers and equipment manufacturers. Mark conceived and developed one of the industry's first multi-service provisioning platform and is multiple patent holder. He is active in the IEEE as a senior member. Mark received his B.S. in Electrical Engineering from Iowa State University and M.S. in Electrical Engineering from Carnegie Mellon University.
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