Thursday, 19 March 2009

Number 10) Rural Broadband Investment

I'm concerned that as President Obama tries to pass his budget, there are going to be a lot of people attacking him for doing things that I think need to be done. So, stealing a page from John McCain's inaccurate and unserious "top ten" twittering, here are ten things in Obama's budget that make me hopeful about our future.

The first one comes from the budget for the Department of Agriculture, and it's about $1.3Billion in loans and grants for rural broadband infrastructure. At this point, I'm sure someone somewhere is making a stupid joke about online porn. Let's allow the snickering at the back of the class to die down before we continue. Ready now?

Fine. This particular investment is not only necessary - it's long overdue. Manufacturing jobs are dying out and farming jobs are on the decline. As a result of these and other factors (poor access to healthcare and education among them), rural communities tend to be more poor than suburban or urban communities. They also lag behind in access to broadband internet. To attract and create new jobs to these areas, we will need not create fundamental infrastructures that put these areas within reach. A fast internet connection has long since stopped being a "Nice to have" for small businesses and start ups - it is essential. But it is simply not commercially viable for the market to supply this - creating broadband capacity is expensive and there aren't enough people in these areas to make it worth the while of commercial enterprises.

What's more, it may surprise you to know that it isn't just rural areas that have fallen behind the times. The US in international comparison has a much lower broadband capacity than other first world nations.

Stop and think about that for a second. We all know that traditional industries, like manufacturing, are being increasingly outsourced to third world countries that cand do them better. Our consolation has been that the US can lead in the cutting edge, information age businesses that will lead the future.

But according to the chart above, we have less broadband access and we pay more for it. $1.3 Billion of this year's budget is aimed at helping to bring us up to speed in this area. Money well spent.

Make sure your friends and family know - this budget isn't perfect. But it's important.

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