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Should Fast Internet Be a Public Good?

by Shilpi Paul

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Should fast internet be as available as water?

This morning, the Atlantic Cities reported on DC’s various ventures into providing internet to the masses, bringing internet to those who may not have the finances to pay for it easily and closing the so-called “digital divide.”

Broadbrand Bridge, an organization created by Bloomingdale residents eager to mitigate gentrification-related tension, attempted to set up a free WiFi zone in the neighborhood. So far, they have installed routers on 20 Bloomingdale homes, and are now branching into Mount Pleasant and Columbia Heights. However, the network is far from perfect, and sometime literal walls emerged, as WiFi struggles to get through and around buildings.

The DC government has also gotten into the game. They put $25 million into creating an underground network, DC Community Access Network (DC-CAN), that will bring internet to 291 community institutions like non-profits and schools in 2013; however, as what is called a “middle mile” network, DC-CAN won’t be taking internet all the way to consumers. It will have to rely on private internet providers, who can set prices wherever they want to complete the “last mile” and bring internet directly to the people. Many feel that governments like ours should take it one step further, providing internet to consumers as a public good at rates lower than what private companies charge.

From Atlantic Cities:

Ensuring affordable, reliable access to the internet “typically means a network that’s owned by the local government or a co-op,” Chris Mitchell, the director of the Telecommunications as Commons Initiative at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, says. That would mean approaching municipal networks as public works projects, with the city building out the full infrastructure and selling services directly. But doing so would put municipal government in competition with private broadband providers.

Big telecommunications firms, as you might imagine, don’t like this. In North Carolina, Time Warner and CenturyLink lobbied to have a law passed that prevents municipalities from building their own broadband networks. Opponents of such measures argue that this allows companies to make internet access available only where the money for services is—in other words, not in low-income areas with low adoption rates.

Readers, what do you think?

See other articles related to: internet, broadband

This article originally published at http://dc.urbanturf.com/articles/blog/should_fast_internet_be_a_public_good/6066

3 Comments

  1. Colin said at 1:09 pm on Tuesday September 25, 2012:

    Internet certainly does not fit the classic definition of a public good. If you want some, go buy it yourself.

  1. Sam said at 9:12 am on Wednesday September 26, 2012:

    It doesn’t fit the exact definition of a public good, but it’s awfully close and why so many telecom companies tend to be monopolies. The internet is our digital highway and as such I would say it’s a public good.

  1. StringsAttached said at 10:56 am on Wednesday September 26, 2012:

    This is what the Federal Universal Service Fund (USF) is all about. If you don’t know what that is, take a look at your telephone bill because we all contribute to it and check out http://www.usac.org/about/. It has four programs (low income, rural healthcare, schools and libraries, and high cost) that subsidize the cost of getting telecommunications services to individuals and businesses that qualify under the programs. For those of us that can easily afford to be connected via telecommunications (mobile phones, internet and the computers to connect with, etc.) this isn’t a big deal but there are benefits to the entire economy for having a more connected population. Now what “fast internet” is is a whole different animal.

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