Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Who should be responsible for expanding access to the Internet?

After reading some of the posts, I'm not sure who I think would do the best job of helping to expand access to broadband in America. For such an "advanced" country that is so dependent on computer and online technologies, you would think that we would have a better network that would be able to connect more people to the Internet cheaply and efficiently. Unfortunately, our current infrastructure seems only to serve those lucky enough to live in the right place and able to pay the relatively high costs of getting connected.

So who should be responsible for helping to build our network?

The government? As was pointed out, cities like Philadelphia have initiated government-sponsored programs to provide wireless Internet access to their communities. On paper, it sounds like a great idea, but as noted here, it appears that governments might lack the resources and expertise necessary to provide a reliable network. Moreover, the government's investment in an expensive Internet network structure could be rendered obsolete in a matter of months, and it is unlikely that government could keep up with the changes, making the initial investment a total waste of taxpayer dollars.

Private companies? So far, private companies have failed to provide cheap and reliable internet access. First, broadband remains unavailable to vast portions of the country, and not just in sparsely populated areas. I live in Columbus and have been told that I can't get DSL even though they have a "post" set up near my house. They just have not activated it...for three years now. In addition, the cost is extremely prohibitive for many Americans, thus furthering the so-called "digital divide" in America. Finally, although competition is thought to be a strong motivator in the private market, the sheer cost of building a competing network infrastructure to enter into the competitive market is probably too great to allow new entrants into the field. Thus, the "private competition" we have today is little more than "monopolistic" competition involving a few incumbent companies.

Public utilities? Public utilities offer some of both worlds--private companies with greater expertise and resources coupled with government oversight and price control. But companies enjoying monopoly-like control over Internet access might become too complacent and refuse to make needed investments in keeping the network up to date. Unlike telephones and power grids, the technologies are constantly changing in this area. A company enjoying total control over a market while having its rates capped by a regulatory agency might not be willing to maintain the sort of network necessary, and strict governmental oversight may be difficult in such a quickly-growing field.

So where does that leave us? I don't know. All I know is that there must be something better than what we have now.


Blogger Aaron said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

8:01 PM  
Blogger Scott Walker said...

In my mind the potential problems with government running/providing the internet access the article pointed out are persuasive.

I think leaving responsibility to internet access to private companies is most appropriate. Obviously, private companies have not succeeded in providing "low-cost" internet to everyone yet but that does not mean they will not in the future. I believe that if there is demand for a certain product-Eventually a company will focus on fulfilling that demand. Moreover, once access is established for an area only a private company has incentive to maintain customer’s connectivity. Neither a public utility nor government would have an economic reason to provide decent service (for examples of this please call Columbia Gas of Ohio and ask to speak to anyone who could actually help you).

6:28 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I heard several years ago it would be possible to connect to the Internet throuhg power lines so that anyone who plugs a modem (for this technology) to an electrical outlet at home/office can gain access to the Internet. If this technology can be realized, some of these concerns can be addressed.
Or at least this type of technology development, I believe, may provide some long-term clues to this concerns.
Is anybody aware of this technology?

12:45 PM  

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