Tuesday, December 18, 2007

High-speed internet - is this the government's job?

Maybe it's just me - but I don't understand why the state government has to spend $6.8 MILLION in order to provide high-speed internet to all areas in the state.

And do we really need state-ordered committees in each county to determine how much unmet demand there is locally for high-speed service? Don't internet service providers already have a good understanding of whether or not there is 'market demand' in various locations?

In July, Gov. Ted Strickland signed an executive order creating the Ohio Broadband Council and the Broadband Ohio Network.

The order directed the Ohio Broadband Council to coordinate efforts to extend access to the Broadband Ohio Network to every county in Ohio. It also allowed public and private entities to tap into the Broadband Ohio Network while directing state agencies to use the Broadband Ohio Network rather than the public and private networks agencies currently used.

Personally, I like the competition in the market right now and, despite some economies of scale, I'm not sure putting everyone into a state network is the best approach. The critical point is to ensure everyone can communicate, regardless of the system used. As it is now, a glitch in one system doesn't take everyone down. Is that a consideration in a state-wide network? (I'm not enough of a techie to know the answer.)

But that was July...and on December 4th, the new council met for the first time.

Now, in this initiative, the Governor wants to show what demand exists for broadband and, hopefully, encourage private providers to expand high-speed Internet service.

According to numerous press reports, the money will be used to create and staff a new nonprofit corporation called Connect Ohio Initiatives LLC that would be a subsidiary of Connected Nation, of Kentucky, that has worked on such projects nationwide.

The Columbus Dispatch reports:

"Officials couldn't say yesterday what percentage of Ohio may not have broadband access, and providers have been reluctant to share information about their service areas for competitive reasons, Strickland said.

The first task of the initiative will be to map where those gaps in the state are, said Brian Mefford, president and chief executive of Connected Nation.

Connect Ohio will hire staff members, including regional program managers, to set up "e-community leadership teams" in all 88 counties consisting of leaders in government, business, health care, education and other areas to develop customized plans for broadband service in each county, he said.

Strickland said he hopes the federal government will provide additional funding, and Internet providers also are expected to help pay for the initiative and other things such as computers for areas that need them."

Telecommunications companies are supportive of the measure - obviously, as the government is going to do their market studies for them. But Jonathon McGee, executive director of the Ohio Cable Telecommunications Association, has said that cable service is offered in all 88 Ohio counties and that high-speech cable mobile service is offered in 95 percent of "cable's Ohio footprint."

If this is accurate, why do we need to do a study to see who doesn't have access? Does everyone need - or want to pay for - a high-speed service when cable service may meet their demands?

So here are my concerns:

* internet access is important for many reasons, but is it the role of government to spend limited tax dollars to do the market research and then provide (in one way or another) such service in areas where the demand may not be high enough to justify the cost?

* do we now expect the government to take on all kinds of roles simply because it may be classified as 'economic development'?

* do we really need a committee in each county? Lucas is pretty well served in terms of availability of access. But the City of Toledo's proposal to have a company provide discounted or free WiFi service to city government and 'underserved' populations has gone nowhere - especially in light of the numerous problems encountered by other cities who've tried this venture.

* while it's being billed as a public-private partnership, the first $2.9 million is 80% of the initial costs and the remaining 20 percent — about $750,000 — is supposed to come from cable and telecommunications companies and other private businesses. The Governor then wants another $3.9 million in the 2009-11 budget.

* even if this is a good project that government should undertake, should we do so at the expense of other funding priorities?

These are my questions - what are yours?

2 comments:

Tim Higgins said...

Maggie,

It appears that the state is going to make itself a part of this whether it has a place or not. I believe that there is a historical precedence for this however, though I have been having trouble researching this. Did not the Federal government fund a program to wire rural America for telephone service during the days of the FDR New Deal, much to the advantage of the Bell telephone monopoly?

Today is the Internet Age however, and while your posting talks about cable covering 95% of their footprint, this would not include rural areas currently unserved by cable. I am sure however, that if the state or federal government would like to wire the rest of the state for cable, and thus broadband, that some enterprising company will be happy to take advantage of what would otherwise be an unprofitable endeavor.

Hooda Thunkit said...

Feel good politics, or, as I prefer to call it, buying votes and voters.

Stupid government is always willing to rush in where smart business, profitable business, knows better.

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