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The era of geek pork has arrived

By 22 July 2010 6 Comments

With yesterday’s announcement of a baffling new 4 Mbps minimum broadband speed standard, the era of full blown geek pork barrel has arrived.  I probably shouldn’t be surprised given that my fellow geeks and tech addicts are a growing demographic.  The geek blogosphere seems to be celebrating hallelujah and see this as necessary government intervention.  Given the fact that it is unlikely that the private sector will invest at the impossible-to-please pace that many of my fellow geeks deem appropriate, their next “logical” next step would be government intervention and possibly even a government run operation.

Even self purported “Conservative/Libertarian” types like ArsTechnica reader “MikeStewart” thinks that the government needs to step in.  Well known tech columnists like the Wall Street Journal’s Walt Mossberg cites the myth that the US is behind “anyone else” and the blogosphere echo chamber quickly regurgitate it as fact.  Many of these myths are based on the now widely discredited Berkman study.  Others like “John Smith” commenting on AT&T’s policy blog says that “If it takes a sledgehammer from the US government to force AT&T to upgrade its service against its will, then I am all for it”.  Really?  I didn’t know that’s how democracies worked not to mention the fact that major Telcos like AT&T and Verizon each already invest more in CAPEX than all the dotcoms combined.

But these inconvenient facts won’t stop Jason Rosenbaum from proclaiming that the US telecom companies “are too greedy to invest in infrastructure.  Rosenbaum goes as far as proclaiming that “net neutrality” is needed to force ISPs the upgrade even though it would likely do the opposite by starving the ISPs of their means to invest.  The most extreme form of “net neutrality” would harm present revenues of the major Telcos and Cable companies by outlawing their existing business models and even the less extreme forms of net neutrality would eliminate current and future legitimate ISP business models.  I’ve yet to meet a business that increases its investment when the regulatory environment (e.g., net neutrality or dubious reclassification proposals) precludes them from getting a return on that investment.

Trying to understand these irrational demands from a rational perspective might be a fool’s errand if the Internet entitlement geeks believe what they want to believe.  At the root of this anger against the ISPs is that they want faster Internet access and they don’t want to pay for it and they want a healthy dose of government interventions (read subsidies).  If 14 to 24 million people in high cost areas are too expensive for the free market to serve, then they want to declare broadband (now 4 Mbps minimum) a basic human right (note that the word “right” is a euphemism for “entitlement”) and that’s going to have to involve a few hundred billion dollars to cover ~5% of the population.  And if we listen to Walt Mossberg, we can’t forget about the rest of the country and it sounds like he wouldn’t be happy until the U.S. is better than “anyone” which he really means better than Korea and Japan.  If that involves another few hundred billion entitlement dollars, spending other people’s money is certainly easier than spending one’s own money.

I can’t deny that broadband subsidies look really good to me since I’m about as geeky as they come, but it would involve extracting contributions from my fellow tax payers.  Since I can’t in good conscious take this subsidy, I feel as if I have a duty to point out pork when I see it.