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Broadband for All

An essay by Richard Lowenberg


Broadband for All:

Fulfilling the Promise of Networked Society


The original promise of the Internet has been derailed.   In the early 1990s, the Clinton-Gore administration initiated the NII: National Information Infrastructure (Information Highway), bringing the world of the Internet to the people, communities, public institutions and commercial sectors of this country.   The NII and the emergence of the Web, spawned a period of innovation and optimism.   But the evolution of this system and its rapid commercialized boom over the following years, under the guise of the ‘new digital economy’, soon went bust, and has since resulted in a very different path for ‘networked society’ development.   This recent misdirection, characterized in part by private sector entrenchment with assistive regulatory interventions, has derailed the promise of a convergent broadband-connected networked society, has led to a widening of the ‘digital divide’, has fostered corporate media consolidation, and has resulted in the rapid decline of the U.S. as a leader in broadband deployment and access, technological innovation, science research, education and economic vitality.   It is time to turn things around.
 
Our leaders in Washington have, over the past few years, declared that ‘we are at war’.   Our national budget is on a trillion dollar war footing, at the expense of meeting internal national needs.   Many in the private sector are capitalizing on and profiting from this economically unsustainable state of affairs.   Leading economists have shown that our nation’s problematic needs for education, healthcare, poverty alleviation, natural resources and energy renewal, environmental stabilization, and urban-rural community economic development, could be alleviated with approximately one quarter of current military expenditures.  

Networked ‘information society’ development is critical to solving many of these problems.   However, the incumbent telecommunications industries have been indicating that true broadband fiber and wireless access for all is not economically viable.   At the same time they oppose municipal and other forms of public sector telecommunications initiatives, as being unfair competition in what must be a ‘level playing field’ marketplace.

A renewed promise for ecologically and economically regenerating networked society is at hand.   It is grounded in the deployment of broadband connectivity and affordable access for all.   It is based on a national fiber optic infrastructure initiative, realized through new public-private partnerships, intelligent policies and incentives, and an economic model that will revitalize local communities, while promoting the development and provision of convergent voice, video and data applications and services.

If we are truly at war, it is time to stop competing with ourselves.   This is a time for national cooperation.   The provisioning of quality-of-life-enhancing broadband infrastructure and knowledge-based services is key to the revitalization of our nation in what may be increasingly difficult times.   History has shown that we can stop the internally terrorizing effects of war, with national programs of vision and cooperation.   The New Deal brought us out of a great depression.   The automobile industry, other manufacturers and citizens, retooled for prior war efforts.   This is a time for public and private cooperation to build out our national information infrastructure, in order to provide Americans with their deserved future-building improvements for social and ecological well-being, with renewed sources for social optimism and optimization, and with ‘open’ communicative paths to peace-making.   Not to do so, is to be at war with ourselves; the ultimate war crime.

Richard Lowenberg   rl@radlab.com        



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