Digital Divide is Wrong Battle Cry

CHICAGO – When will people realize that the network infrastructure of the U.S. is not a drum for socialism but a much more critical instrument to strategically position and sustain the country in the world economy?

While beating the drum for a socialistic platitude on the use of the country’s network infrastructure may be considered noble in some circles, it doesn’t capture the true essence of the need for an infrastructure that can support and sustain economic development.

Forget the “digital divide”. Our lack of infrastructure for true broadband connectivity is a “digital desert” that affects every level of the economic strata.

As mentioned in previous columns, my current definition of true broadband connectivity is 1 Gbps. Anything less is not broadband. In the near future, 10 Gbps will be the standard. Anyone thinking DSL is fast should guess again. Today’s 1 Gbps was yesterday’s T-1 (1.544 Mbps). Tomorrow’s T-1 is 10 Gbps.

Rare Oasis Isn’t the Answer

If we are in a digital desert where all economic levels are affected, the oasis of high-speed network services the incumbent carriers provide across a vast low-speed wasteland is not the answer. The national network platform should be clearly defined as to what it should provide and how it should be implemented.

I received an e-mail that summarized comments from Andrew Rasiej – the Personal Democracy Forum (PDF) co-founder and digital divide activist – who made what some referred to as a passionate case at the PDF’s 2007 conference. He said we must try to “revive the digital divide as a major policy issue”. These are highlights from the e-mail:

He asked how many people in the audience felt the digital divide is still a problem. Few of us did. Rasiej went on to talk about poor Internet access in low-income schools and communities and how inequitable access is hampering civic participation and democracy.

Rasiej then announced that the PDF will launch an online petition to elect the “first tech president”. He’s challenging the public to sign the petition and forward it to presidential candidates to get them to sign onto these basic principles:

1. Declare the Internet a public good and bring broadband to everyone.
2. Wireless public spectrum must be available and expanded.
3. Go from “no child left behind” to “every child connected”.
4. We need to support Net neutrality.
5. We need to create a connected democracy where people can actually hear public hearings and participate.
6. We need to use this to create transparency and accountability.
7. We need a national guard of technologists to work during Katrina-like emergencies.

First, network infrastructure should not be rolled up as a partisan issue or as an issue that reflects some socialism stance.

Second, it should be defined as a common strategic objective as critical as national security that is a given in any presidential candidate. Third, it should be understood as a necessary platform for sustaining economic development and global competitiveness just like roads, airports and other infrastructure.

Infrastructure Equates to National Security

Rasiej’s announcement does not go far enough in specifics or far enough in setting the stage for real improvement.

It must include many facets that are necessary to provide the big picture. A decisive action plan and long-term framework must be crafted instead of a whimsical wish list or a simple declaration that the “Internet is a public good”. It is much more important than that.

Rasiej should go further in his request. The basic principles should include:

  1. Dismantling the current FCC as it is not doing its job. Instead, it’s protecting obsolete business models that are crippling the long-term competitiveness of the U.S. within the global economy.
  2. Creating a successor to the FCC with a set of clear goals and standards. This should include a whole different set of people to encourage the implementation of a national standard for broadband connectivity of 1 Gbps by a certain date and 10 Gbps three years after that date.
  3. Standards that create a structure for driving the network infrastructure to be No. 1 globally and the guidelines to sustain that status.
  4. Penalties and sanctions for any individual and/or entity trying to delay, restrict or block the upgrades of network infrastructure. That action would be looked upon as an endangerment to the strategic security of the U.S.

    These would include but not be limited to lobbyists, special interest groups or anyone having an agenda to protect obsolete business models that undermine the overall competitiveness of the U.S. so long as they are in place.

While any call for a national broadband policy is a good start, the reasons must reflect a concern and commitment for every level of the national economy, national security and the current and future global competitiveness of the U.S. It shouldn’t just impact pockets or special interest groups at any particular level of the economy.

Carlinism: Infrastructure is not a partisan issue.