<% @ Language=VBScript %>USA Today Op/Ed Piece Way Off the Mark
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USA Today Op/Ed Piece Way Off the Mark

July 19, 2005

Generally, I try not to respond directly to op/ed pieces, but this one takes the cake.

In today's USA Today, there is a piece authored by Walter B. McCormick, Jr., president and CEO of the United States Telecom Association, entitled "Government Net not cheap," in which the argument is made that municipalities should not offer broadband service to their residents.

Among the more egregious statements contained in the piece is the following:

"A wise man once said that for every complex problem, there is a simple, but wrong, solution. For 99% of Americans, that's an apt description of government-owned and operated broadband networks. According to new FCC data, 99% of us live in zip codes where high-speed Internet is available and 83 percent of us have a choice of providers as wireless, cable, landline, satellite and power companies join the competitive fray."

Another wise man once said there are lies, damn lies, and statistics. Indeed, Mr. McCormick's opening paragraph is, at best, disingenuous. The accurate statement that should have been written is that 99 percent of U.S. citizens live in zip codes where there is at least one yes, only one broadband connection. So, if a large enterprise located in Wyoming has the only broadband connection in its entire zip code, that's relevant - for some reason - to the FCC.

If it were true that 99 percent of Americans have broadband access, you'd hear an awful lot more about it from incumbent telcos, cable providers and the Bush administration, which is on record as calling for universal broadband access for the entire country by 2007.

I recently wrote an article (http://www.tmcnet.com/usubmit/2005/Jul/1161484.htm) that responds further to the FCC's broadband statistical analysis. The article also addresses McCormick's incorrect claim that there is vast competition is the broadband realm from telcos, cable, wireless, satellite, and power companies.

Getting back to the USA Today piece, Mr. McCormick relies on, among other things, research conducted by the New Millennium Research Council as evidence that "municipalities typically overpay for technology, select rapidly antiquated systems, require ample subsidization and often fail when costs spiral out of control."

First, the New Millennium Research Council is, according to Consumer Reports, an "industry-supported think tank based in Washington, D.C." Unbiased it is not.

Furthermore, in its July 2005 issue (http://www.consumerreports.org) Consumer Reports responded to New Millennium's argument, stating that "those networks were built using older cable and fiber systems, not the wireless approach now being adopted."

Anyway, Mr. McCormick's resolution to the whole issue of universal coverage is that to reach everyone, private companies should be encouraged to do so by receiving "a relatively modest investment in targeted loans, grants and tax incentives to extend existing private networks."

Hang on one second.A telco association is looking for local, state and/or federal subsidies to remedy the broadband coverage issue? Taxpayer money shouldn't go to municipal networks, according to Mr. McCormick -- taxpayer money should go to private companies to set up broadband networks. Never mind that for years telcos have argued that government should step aside and promote competition (see, e.g., the Brand X Supreme Court decision).

Sounds like a big ole contradiction to me. I'm sure that plenty of taxpayers would object at throwing public dollars at billion dollar corporations for broadband services to reach their homes.

Finally, local governments are perfectly capable of making their own decisions. Municipalities, through their own elected officials, should be allowed to determine whether broadband access is an essential service to offer their residents and businesses.

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