Fundamental Broadband Upgrades Unlikely Under New Administration


The collapse of the housing market, followed by the collapse of what seems to be everything else, most likely will put broadband development on the back burner.


Both Barack Obama and John McCain have deep and detailed plans for communications and broadband infrastructure. They also are laid out in PC World and, on wireless issues via a list of questions supplied to the campaigns by RCR News. (It's interesting that Obama's campaign declined to answer some seemingly innocuous questions and changed others.) Obama even gave a shout-out to the need to improve broadband infrastructure during an interview on "The Rachel Maddow Show" last night.


This will likely come to naught. People certainly should be concerned that U.S. broadband quality isn't within hailing distance of the top 10 in a Cisco-sponsored survey released in September. They understand that that doesn't help productivity and puts us in an unenviable position in the global marketplace. They like to telecommute, and a strong broadband infrastructure makes this more accessible.


Let's be real, however. The economic crisis threatens health care, education and defense. Nobody is going to opt for faster Internet -- even faster Internet that will create some jobs -- over these more pressing issues. In a bad -- or awful -- economy, more immediate issues will take precedence.


Ironically, good broadband is one of the key elements in improving both health care and education. But it is the kind of long-term, deferred payoff initiative that won't get much traction in the current environment. Good public policy loses out to preventing school budget cuts every time. After all, the current broadband system works. The fact that it doesn't work as well as the networks in scores of other countries isn't as big a deal as not being able to get medical treatment or a good education.


The bottom line is that the financial crisis likely squelched any momentum for fundamental broadband upgrades. I'd love to be proven wrong. Maddow asked Obama about a potential Works Project Administration (WPA)-type project that Franklin Roosevelt implemented in 1933. He said it is a good idea, and broadband certainly would be part of that. But, in the final analysis, it seems highly unlikely that there would be enough political will for an undertaking ambitious enough to do for broadband what FDR did for tunnels and bridges.