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America, our internet stinks. And it’s time to try a different approach to correcting the problem.
Millions of Americans do not have modern internet service. It’s a symptom of our internet dysfunction that we don’t even know how many. The unreliable number of internet providers is 14.5 million households. Or maybe it’s 157 million people. Even for people with reliable access, Americans generally pay more for poorer Internet services than our counterparts in most other rich countries.
The White House’s new infrastructure plan includes a proposal to spend $ 100 billion expanding high-speed Internet access to every home. Its central premise is a strong one: in order to achieve the Internet that we all deserve, the federal government must be more involved – but not too much.
The Biden government’s plan is few in detail, and a large spending bill will be difficult to pass. But let me explain why the White House plan might be the shock we need.
First, how it works now:
We have the worst aspects of free market capitalism and persistent government right now. Taxpayers’ money goes into internet service, but the money is often spent short-sightedly. A system that promises easy regulation actually has many rules – often encouraged by companies protecting their interests – but the rules are often wrong or poorly enforced.
The government is now handing over a lot of money and authority to internet companies. The result is that Americans raise billions of dollars each year to help build Internet networks in rural cities and to subsidize service costs for schools, libraries, and households.
However, the funds often help maintain the AOL-era Internet pipelines. And money is spent on short-term solutions. For example, schools can get help paying ISPs for Wi-Fi hotspots when they better have fast internet pipelines to control.
“That’s not to say the investments didn’t bring communities online. They have, ”said Kathryn de Wit, who manages the Pew Charitable Trusts internet access project. But she told me, “It is time the federal government took a more active role.”
What is on the White House internet map:
The government set high-level goals this week: Quality Internet pipelines should reach every American home shortly. Tax dollars shouldn’t help fund outdated internet technology. And we should pay less for internet service.
These principles sound simple, but they are deceptively revolutionary. The plan is essentially a statement that what we are doing now is not working and the government should not watch and let the system go on.
As de Wit told me, the government’s role should be to focus all of the lasers involved in the Internet system on one mission: build fast 21st century Internet pipelines to reach everyone, and ensure that those The public and not the internet companies – this is the first and last word in our internet system.
If the federal government should get out of the way:
The Biden administration established principles, but suggests that communities, states, and businesses be given leeway to develop tailored Internet technologies and policies to meet their needs.
My colleague Cecilia Kang wrote this week about community activists in Maryland putting together a system of antennas and routers to provide Internet service to low-income families. The White House wants to support more community-based internet service providers like this, as well as government-affiliated networks like the one in Chattanooga, Tenn.
The White House’s support for alternative internet service providers is a message that large internet companies like Comcast and AT&T can be part of the solution, but they’re not the only answer. Unsurprisingly, the big internet companies aren’t particularly keen on the Biden plan.
A trade group representing Comcast and others said America’s internet plumbing was in good shape and that the government shouldn’t micromanage internet networks or give priority to state networks. Here you can find out more about why ISPs aren’t happy.
The challenges and opportunities ahead of us:
I don’t want to downplay the difficulties of repairing the American Internet system. It will be difficult to build Internet networks that reach all Americans, especially in sparsely populated areas. It’s not clear how the White House plans to make the service affordable for everyone.
But let me emphasize what is exciting about the White House plan. It identifies the right problems, declares a worthy mission, and calls for fewer barriers to connect the best of government with the best of capitalism.
If the White House plan works, our internet system could be both cheaper and more effective for all of us.
Before we go …
What happens when complexity is destroyed online: Facebook and Instagram were fertile grounds for scary, often misleading information about Covid-19 vaccines. This Bloomberg News article delves into the why, including how the apps reward people for creating people’s fears and the difficulty of accessing medical truths online.
Companies that mine our data do so a lot of lobbying: The markup reported that 25 relatively unknown companies that make money collecting our personal information together spent $ 29 million on federal lobbying. One of them, Oracle, spent $ 9.6 million – more than Google, which is much bigger.
TJ Maxx, but from Amazon? Prior to the pandemic, Amazon was discussing the possibility of opening discount stores to clear its warehouses of unsold goods such as housewares and electronics, Bloomberg News reported. I’m not sure why Amazon would need stores to do this instead of … uhhhh, just selling discounted items on its huge website.
This is a story of stray dogs who kept trying to steal a stuffed unicorn toy from a dollar store. Sisu is a very good dog. The people who saved him are good too.
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