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Debate Over Broadband in Stimulus Package

Submitted by Daniel A. Freeman on February 6, 2009 - 12:30pm

Library Stuff posted this AP article earlier today. The key passage:

Among the economic stimulus proposals moving through Congress is one that fulfills an old dream of broadband boosters. It would offer substantial funding for high-speed Internet networks in corners of the country that still rely on dial-up connections or have only one broadband option.

The hope is that construction of these networks will create jobs, and that better access to broadband will spur all sorts of new economic activity. Yet not everyone agrees that broadband funding belongs in a stimulus plan.

Some critics of the idea wonder how many people will actually sign up for the new networks once they are built. Others question how many jobs broadband investments will really create. Even supporters debate whether Congress is going about funding broadband expansion the right way.

Some of the debate centers on whether or not this will create jobs and whether it is "spending" as opposed to "stimulus". While I can't attempt to answer that question, the articles notes that some of the debate focuses on whether or not this investment in technology infrastructure is a solid one:

John Horrigan, associate director for research at the Pew Internet project, also points out that just because more Americans are given access to broadband doesn't guarantee that they will subscribe.

A Pew study found that 14 percent of today's dial-up and non-Internet users say they don't subscribe to broadband because it is not available where they live. But far more - 51 percent - say they are just not interested.

Simply stated, I just don't agree with this logic. While I cannot predict what might happen two an investment in Broadband during a period of extreme economic turbulence, assuming that the economy does eventually recover, there is absolutely no question that broadband demand is going to continue to increase at a rapid pace.

Many librarians have experienced firsthand how quickly a "new" technology infrastructure can become strained and obsolete. According to January's Library Technology Reports:

Fifty-six percent of libraries have no plans to add computers in the coming year. This, together with the issues of insufficiency of bandwidth access, ongoing challenges to fund staff support for IT, and the inadequacy of building capacity and technology infrastructure, suggests the growing strain that libraries face to keep up with user demand for public access computing.

This is in addition to the fact that many library buildings throughout the country are more than twenty years old, and thus were not built with any provisions for Internet access.

The statement that a large percentage of survey respondents may be "uninterested" in broadband seems misleading. I'm guessing the percentage of those "uninterested" in broadband was probably a lot greater a few years ago, but as technology grows and expands, demand for technological resources grows with it.