Cheap broadband for every American

"A chicken in every pot and a car in every garage." --Herbert Hoover, 1928.

Federal regulators plan to propose a way to get inexpensive broadband to every person in the U.S. According to several media sources, The Federal Communications Commission will offer a program for the federal government to take an activist role in expanding broadband, and may add a tax to phone bills to help fund it. Two months ago, the Berkman Center at Harvard laid out a plan for universal U.S. broadband. It said that building the necessary infrastructure of the program could cost as much as $350 billion.

The new FCC proposal has faced resistance from telecom and cable companies because it may force them to share their networks to widen the broadband grid. Consumers are unlikely to be enamored of the proposal because it could raise their phone rates.

The Harvard study made the point that broadband is essential to disseminating information, and that information is tantamount to education. People who do not have broadband are at a disadvantage in terms of accessing news and material from research centers and centers of higher education. Those arguments are almost certainly true on the face of it.

What is not entirely clear, is whether Americans have a right to broadband access. The issue of providing postal and telephone service to rural areas has been debated for decades, as it is much more expensive to provide these services to people far from urban centers. While the the cost per household of providing broadband infrastructure is fairly reasonable in big cities, it is more expensive in areas where the population is spread thin.

The Administration has already set aside some capital in its stimulus program to expand the broadband grid, but it is not nearly enough to match the investment proposed in the Harvard study.

What the issue boils down to is simply this: why should a farmer have a government mandated right to broadband. If he wants it, perhaps he needs to move closer to town.

Douglas A. McIntyre is an editor at 24/7 Wall St.

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