President-Elect Barack Obama is likely to direct up to $40 billion in grants and loans toward improving broadband availability and speeds as part of broader economic stimulus efforts, according to UBS analysts.
And that's great news, because the nation needs a countrywide and affordable broadband network to connect in the 21st century just as it needed roads in the 20th and railroads in the 19th.
Only broadband can provide access to work (e.g. work at home contact center agents) and services from anywhere; only broadband can make a sufficient and realizable dent in harmful commuting. And only broadband can (and did) permit the nation to survive an enemy attack and other such disasters through distributed communications and computing.
The Telework Coalition (TelCoa) has welcomed the President-elect's moves. To take advantage of this expanded broadband network, TelCoa also wants to see the new President's program followed up with federal incentives to encourage more businesses to adopt telework. While there are tax deductions for parking and for employee transit programs there are none for telework.
Telework tax incentives will pay for themselves, says TelCoa, by driving down costs, reducing costly emissions and traffic congestion, creating competitive advantages, and providing local economic opportunities for people to live and work in one place. They will help create what it calls a 'climate of security' from adverse events, whether a pandemic, weather or other natural disasters, or international or domestic terrorism. Telework, by reducing the need to drive, especially in suburb-to-suburb and rural-to-suburb commutes where transit is not feasible or cost-effective, will also curb foreign energy dependence.
"Broadband telecommunications and on-line educational programs are most effective when there is a telework job available at the home end of the line," said TelCoa President and CEO Chuck Wilsker (News - Alert). "With broadband and telework, we no longer need to apply physical transportation 'solutions' to address economic/employment, energy, or environmental issues. Mainstreaming comprehensive telework opportunities is the quickest, most effective means to provide employment opportunities to a great number of people without forcing them to daily leave their communities."
Yet at the same time, President-elect Obama's program has raised some legitimate concerns over the need and wisdom during these tough times to subsidize high-speed access. People have survived without it; there is no shortage of private providers.
The hard fact is that government subsidies have been required for rural and accessible infrastructure and services such as for roads, and rural electrification, and more recently, intercity rail and mass transit. Broadband is no different, as any rural resident struggling to get satellite DSL or family needed to get online to reach broadband-optimized websites can tell you.
One can make the same counterarguments for paved roads and for the Interstate highway system, especially in rural areas. People and the economy survived without them too. There were railroads and interurban lines, and, prior to the Interstates, federally-supported and state paved roads, modern-day turnpikes, and parkways.
One point has been made that roads are essential to national security, which differentiates them from broadband. Yes, it was poor roads planted the seeds in the mind of young U.S. Army officer by the name of Dwight Eisenhower of better highways to more quickly transport troops and materiel (the Interstates were originally known as the Interstate Defense Highway System that he signed into law). Yet the lack of them did not impede the U.S. in moving fast amounts of personnel and equipment during World War II and to a lesser extent in the Korean 'conflict'.
The Internet, and by extension, broadband has national security applications. While it was originally intended for scientific purposes that it could tie in distributed computers that would enable the U.S. to retaliate after a first strike made it appealing to the Pentagon. And on 9-11-01 the Internet did just that; it enabled the U.S. to survive an enemy attack.
I saw this up front and personal. I had witnessed the bombings of the World Trade Center on my commute to Call Center Magazine's midtown Manhattan editorial office. I along with my colleagues evacuated the building. I ended up at a friend's house in New Jersey (I could not get to my-then home on Staten Island). While many of the phone lines and cell towers were down I was still able to log in over a broadband connection to receive--and send--'Are You OK' e-mails...
So the question then becomes: does an IP-supporting broadband network merit the same standing as a key infrastructure like roads, and transit? The arguments clearly point that way...