Saturday, February 09, 2008

Failed US Rural Broadband Policy

I posted a shorter version of this comment at the Chronicle of Higher Education in response to their article "Government Report Lauds Broadband Progress."

The two reports discussed are:

Poor, Known Faulty Sample Method Used

The NTIA report continues to rely upon illogical survey information for broadband: five digit zip codes.

In rural areas, some zip codes cover large areas, but if the respondent at the edge of a city with broadband can say “yep, I got broadband,” that entire zip code counts as having broadband service.

This sampling defect is well known and has been a point of annoyance for policy makers who understand the desire to game the system.

US Rural: Slow Deployment, Low Penetration, Stifled Innovation

With reference to regional and rural economic development, educational facilities here (in Southern Illinois) quickly find the limitations of broadband infrastructure. It’s minimal, and localized, at best, and expectations have been worn down by the incumbents.

Rural broadband is essential to sustainable, self sufficient, United States economies. Not sufficient, but certainly necessary.

This NTIA report will, unfortunately, be used as a rebuttal to those trying to make for rural change.

Those who tout its statistics should note that it is a lampoon of good policy, the data are blurred, and the myth of “competitive market solutions” continue apace.

The changes are coming, but the innovation seems to come from upstarts; the incumbent providers apparently move only when threatened.

Educause Report Substantiates Failed US Policy

EDUCAUSE raises good points vis a vis relative US position, but the emphasis (from my own self interest!) is not so much the 100Mb services as the need to get deployments of above 1Mb services, at a minimum, into the “flyover country” and economically depressed towns.

Netflix, for example, needs at least 1.0 Mb for good video quality, with best quality at 1.5+ Mb services.

But the use of a network adds value to all the connected.

These higher speeds will enable new educational models, new business forms, and new sources of entertainment on demand. Applications (payroll, hr, product catalogs, customer relationship information, health records) are becoming more a Service In The Cloud, and designers are improving the effectiveness of "local" and "distant" cooperative applications.

A small business can deliver much of its own infrastructure as a service reached across a reliable, high capacity, network.

Apple continues to drive innovation in the educational segment: iTunes U delivers digital content for free to students from Kindergarten and up. Apple provides free materials for "how to do this" type of education. But this all depends upon a robust ubiquitous broadband network into the communities served.

And we in the rural parts of the world haven't got that network yet, although this was promised in deals made back in the mid 1990s in exchange for "deregulation".


And the network latency of many "well you could do this" proposed solutions of EDGE, satellite, etc. is a fable best told to the illiterate.

Of course, the further parts of the guile includes capacity lids for numbers of bits passed through the network to "protect the infrastructure". Balderdash.

Market Failure

Because of the low population density of the rural US, providers using old school thinking and relying upon old economic models give a great example of “market failure”; precisely the sorts of conditions which drove rural electrification and taxes for “Universal Service” for the regulated Bell monopoly.

The relief may well come from initiatives that resemble the TVA/REA works and rural electric coops. By other measures in the news these days, history seems to be repeating itself in other ways as well.

Nonetheless, when my neighbor's copper wire from the road to the house broke, the local telco rolled out a truck and crew to replace the copper wire with.... more copper wire. Three times. Not the crew's fault, but it is a grand example of failed policy. Give those telcos out here the Hobgoblin award.

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