Speaking to bad perception of broadband and infrastructure

A couple mornings ago while watching C-SPAN’s Washington Journal, a caller argued forcefully that President Donald Trump should not treat broadband as infrastructure. Infrastructure, according to the caller, included roads, bridges, airports, harbors, but not broadband. The caller didn’t go in depth in his reasoning. I gather that like most consumers, broadband is simply the way a consumer accesses the internet, a way that is faster than dial-up. That may have been the extent of his understanding.

Broadband is much more than access, but maybe it is time, for the sake of clarity, to refer to broadband as either an advanced communications network or an integral portion of an advanced communications network. Such a reference may be a bit of a mouthful, but it captures the capabilities that broadband gives you access to; a network that allows for the exchange of digitized data and provides a platform for the creation and delivery of digital services.

By definition, an advanced communications network falls into today’s dictionary definition. Webster’s New World Dictionary defines infrastructure as “basic installations and facilities, as roads, power plants, transportation and communications systems, etc.” A closer look at the installations and facilities listed in the definition shows a commonality between them; that these facilities were designed to move things through the conduits of commerce.

Roads and transportation systems facilitate the movement of cars, trucks, trains, and airplanes which in turn are carrying passengers and freight. Power plants are generating electricity and that electricity is transmitted within and across states and finally distributed to local customers via the electric grid. Communications networks are transporting data in various forms including graphics, text, video, and voice. All these items are transported with the expectation of compensation to the owners of these various networks.

In 1996, Congress recognized the future economic impact of broadband and advanced telecommunications services when it added Section 1302 to the Communications Act. Section 1302 calls for the Federal Communications Commission to promote the deployment of advanced telecommunications capability to all Americans. The internet, still in its infancy, was seen as the new medium for economic growth and Congress, in a rare display of wisdom, found that broadband access and the internet should be left to grow and innovate without onerous regulations.

And while Congress did not have a clue as to what services would eventually be sold on this platform, it was persuaded by the industry’s vision of the future and the development over the prior two decades of internet protocol and the world wide web, that broadband had a promising future.

That future is here. Broadband access allows consumers and businesses to upload, transmit, and exchange knowledge in the data marketplace. The participants in this space are growing, expanding past traditional search products offered by Yahoo! and Google to now include social media and social networks such as Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter.

Broadband access providers are themselves becoming expert in mining, storing, and selling data. Unfortunately for these providers, they are being hamstrung by unfair privacy rules based on ancient, 20th century telephone rules and they would best be served by a streamlined privacy regulation regime based on Federal Trade Commission rules. The only “crime” these providers have committed is that also provide consumers with access to the internet.

But for the original question, is broadband considered infrastructure? Yes, it is. Broadband access facilities are an important part of the advanced communications networks that tie data providers together. To say that broadband is not infrastructure and thus run the risk of not supporting the deployment of additional facilities would be bad public policy.

About Alton Drew

Alton Drew brings a straight forward and insightful brand of political market intelligence. Alton Drew graduated from the Florida State University with a Bachelor of Science in economics and political science (1984); a Master of Public Administration (1993); and a Juris Doctor (1999). You can also follow Alton Drew on Twitter @altondrew.
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