Something Not About The Election

FCC Commissioner Michael Copps believes we’re not doing enough to ensure that all Americans have access to broadband access to The Internets. Consider:

America’s record in expanding broadband communication is so poor that it should be viewed as an outrage by every consumer and businessperson in the country. Too few of us have broadband connections, and those who do pay too much for service that is too slow. It’s hurting our economy, and things are only going to get worse if we don’t do something about it.

I’m fired up to Do Something&#153. So what’s Commissioner Copps’ solution? Take a guess:

The FCC needs to start working to lower prices and introduce competition. We must start meeting our legislative mandate to get advanced telecommunications out to all Americans at reasonable prices; make new licensed and unlicensed spectrum available; authorize “smart radios” that use spectrum more efficiently; and do a better job of encouraging “third pipe” technologies such as wireless and broadband over power lines. And we should recommend steps to Congress to ensure the FCC’s ability to implement long-term solutions.

We need a broadband strategy for America. Other industrialized countries have developed national broadband strategies. In the United States we have a campaign promise of universal broadband access by 2007, but no strategy for getting there. With less than two months to go, we aren’t even within shouting distance.

Government is the answer, apparently. To be fair, Commissioner Copps later suggests that universal broadband access will require a public-private partnership. Perhaps, but he offers no clear situation in which private comes into play, other than taking dictation from the FCC. We already have that, and we’re going to miss our goal. What am I missing?

Maybe the government just needs to get out of the way and let the market develop itself. If Americans don’t have access to broadband, it’s certainly possible that they don’t care to have access. Considering they can get satellite DSL anywhere, I’m hard-pressed to find a lack of access warranting massive intervention.

An argument against satellite is that it’s too expensive. But who decides what price is the reasonable limit that government should push? Because we want that price does not mean that we can sweep aside the cost of infrastructure to build that access. Price is a function of that cost. If customers want the service at the price necessary to make universal access possible, they’ll pay it. If not, they won’t pay it. Why should everyone else be forced to subsidize another’s decision to live in a sparsely-populated location where universal access isn’t economically feasible?

There are costs associated with the rush to get universal access. If it costs us $600 billion to achieve the $500 billion economic boost Commissioner Copps mentions elsewhere in his editorial, we will have fallen behind to avoid falling behind. With deference to Commissioner Copps, we already have a broadband strategy for America. It’s called Capitalism. It works. Maybe a little slower than the snap-of-a-finger speed desired, but better slow-and-correct than fast-and-wrong.