The President’s 5G public works project

It is election year and President Trump is signaling that he is well aware that priming the economic pump to quench America’s thirst for growth in the economy may buy him some political capital while helping his fellow Republicans in the Congress and maybe a few Republican governors and state house members retain their seats. Today’s latest political proposal: construction of a nation-wide 5G communications network by the federal government.

Reuters reported earlier today that among the Trump administration’s initiatives to address potential Chinese hacks of America’s communications systems is the construction of a 5G network by the U.S. government. According to the report, the idea is still being considered among lower ranking staff within the Administration and proposals may not get to the President for another six to eight months.

Federal Communications Commission chairman Ajit Pai was quick to respond this morning to the 5G proposal. Mr Pai argued in his brief statement that construction of this latest generation of high-speed communications network was best left to the market. Rather than going down a costly and eventually unproductive path, the chairman recommended that federal policy stay the course and focus on getting more spectrum, that portion of electromagnetic waves necessary for making calls and moving mobile data, into the commercial space.

Again, Mr Pai demonstrated that he is one Republican that attempts to be practical.

Progressives haven’t come out one way or the other …. yet. Progressives have thrown support in the past behind the idea that initiatives on the part of municipalities to build their own broadband networks, premised on the need for access to affordable broadband in the face of a lack of supply by large carriers such as AT&T and Comcast. On first blush, Mr Trump’s idea seems to be nothing but municipal broadband on steroids, just on a national level.

I doubt, however, that advocacy groups like Public Knowledge or Free Press are going to jump on the opportunity to provide Mr Trump with any favorable optics on this issue. The last thing progressives want to risk is giving the Administration any type of lifeline that would help pull Mr Trump’s popularity into the respectable zone.

Mr Trump could have used the opportunity to make a political play based on economic stimulus a nation-wide project like this could provide. He could have sold it like his version of the Hoover dam, especially in rural or mountainous areas where broadband companies have dared not tread because of sparser populations and rough topography. The Deplorables in flyover states and the Forgotten that inhabit the insular territories of the Caribbean and the Pacific would have warmed up to Mr Trump’s goody bag of 5G services by 2021,especially if the idea is sold as another job creator.

Mr Trump will have to sell broadband access providers on the idea of falling on their swords and taking one in the national interest. According to NCTA, broadband providers have invested $1.4 trillion in constructing and deployong broadband networks. The cable industry alone claims to have made a $275 billion investment in broadband infrastructure.  They are not about to tell investors that future returns on this investment are about to be pushed aside by a public works communications project designed to keep China from eavesdropping on two ex-college room mates talking recipes for peach cobbler and the latest #MeToo campaign.

ISPs got there first. Let it go …

People and associations protesting against the Federal Communications Commission’s reversal of its network neutrality rules are really railing against the fact that current large broadband access providers entrenched themselves between the consumers of communications services and global networks in some before anyone else could. AT&T, Comcast, Charter, and Verizon used private capital and government charters and licenses to carve out territory within which they deployed the networks that connect consumers to that near invisible cloud of interconnected computers that we call the internet. I can’t hate on them for being first.

Net neutrality rules proponents want to dampen this advantage by preventing broadband access providers from blocking traffic from particular content providers; preventing broadband providers from slowing down the speed at which data flows from particular content providers; prohibiting content providers from entering agreements with broadband providers that allow a higher priority be placed on a particular content provider’s traffic; and making transparent to consumers the management practices of broadband providers including pricing, terms, and conditions of service.

The irony of these rules as proposed by allegedly freedom loving advocates is that they are designed to restrict how broadband access providers are to ascertain the value of the traffic that they are requested to transmit across their networks. Businesses assess the value of product, services, goods, information coming across property for determining how much of that value they can extract for themselves. The value extracted hopefully covers the cost of doing business plus profit. Broadband access providers do the same thing, assessing the value of the digital traffic coming across its networks and extracting value in the form of compensation. The greater the value, the greater the compensation.

On the consumer side, how she evaluates value is subject to her personal marginal utility of benefits, to coin the standard economic phrase and accompanying argument. To her, watching African American women twerk at a party on Instagram brings value, but should a doctor consuming video traffic that documents surgery have to risk her video running at a slower speed than a twerker’s in order to comply with a faulty notion of equality of content?

My bias is toward information that actually results in societal improvement, and while I have no problem enjoying the female form, society as a whole gets more mileage where information that helps us better manage our capital and health takes a priority to a cat video or gyrating ass.

Society also gets more mileage where producers and consumers are free to determine what communications they exchange and the terms and conditions of that exchange. This is the problem when we don’t separate content, which is designed to keep people momentarily contented, with information, which should be designed to continuously inform. We have a lot of content floating across our global interconnected networks, and network neutrality rules proponents use the freedom of expression argument to ensure this content gets equal treatment. Prioritizing content on the internet should not be looked at as an attack on freedom of expression, not when there are other outlets available for expression.

What the network neutrality rules proponents always leave out of their argument is the value of the expressions being shared. If they are that serious about their voices being heard over a particular medium such as the internet, then maybe they should put together the capital and construct the technology that ensures their equal access or expression.

Net neutrality rules proceeded from a no value premise

Back in the early 1990s, a higher value was placed by the consumer on her use of the internet and the dial-up services that were used to access it. It was expensive paying either per use or per minute or hour or day depending on your AOL package. The analog telephone service sometime required additional toll fees to access online providers. You didn’t take for granted your time used to access or be online. You made a cost=benefit analysis regarding the time online and paid for the value of the information you retrieved.

Our perspective on value for being online has changed. We have gone from waiting till after 9 pm or weekends to make a long distance call in order to save on toll fees to having bundled wire or wireless services that have eliminated toll calling. You no longer wait minutes for a 100-page document. Such a document can be downloaded in and shared with others around the globe in seconds. Our appreciation for the cost of being online has fallen so low that a significant number of Americans believe that using online resources to transmit videos of singing cats has equal value to data containing vital procedures for surgery.

Net neutrality has spawned the delusion that democracy requires equal treatment of all traffic, no matter how mundane, non-substantive, or perverse. It is time to reverse this perversion by imputing a value component to online access and data exchange. A crucial first step toward bringing back value is the repeal of the Federal Communications Commission’s 2015 open internet order and the no-value rules that it created.

True network neutrality cannot occur if agreements on the pricing of the exchange of traffic are overseen by the federal government.  Content delivery networks, internet information portals, and broadband access providers should negotiate traffic exchange freely and allow their assessment of the value of traffic exchange determine price. These carriers have data on the value the consumer places on their content and access services and can design the proper price points for recovering costs and generating profits.

For the end-use consumer, a day of reckoning will occur. Will they meet the new demand for price recovery issued by content providers by paying higher prices?  Or will they spend less time on the internet? Some may see value by paying additional fees to content providers. For those who don’t, they will threaten to abandon internet networks or reduce the time spent on them. This will provide content and network providers to become innovative by providing tiers of services that give the consumer additional flexibility on payment and usage.

In the end, network neutrality won’t “destroy democracy” on the internet. To be technical, democracy is about choosing political leaders and until we have elections via the internet, the democracy argument is nonsense. What we will have, with the elimination of these rules, is a conduit of commerce being subjected to market rules voluntarily entered into by its participants.