Wave of the future?
Several cities have laid trenches to accommodate water or electrical as well as fiber-optic lines. Fort Wayne’s former mayor, Graham Richard, sees potential for a “dig once” strategy on the part of hundreds of cities facing federal mandates to upgrade their sewer systems. By digging once, and funding the projects with a single set of bonds, Richard argues, communities can solve two huge problems in tandem.
If America acted on the lessons of rural electrification, “we would see a national program of long-term, low-interest loans for local governments and cooperatives, [giving preference to] those who are working together to form larger projects because of the economies of scale,” Mitchell said. “And they would be building open-access networks that would then be available to independent service providers to offer services on.” The short-term result would be “that just about every American would have access to affordable, fast, and reliable Internet from the provider of their choice.”
And the long-term results? Fast and reliable Internet service, said Mitchell, has become the sine qua non of improved productivity across a wide array of business sectors — obvious cases like health care and data services, and not-so-obvious cases like car repair. Now that most cars have built-in computers, mechanics routinely need to “access a database online somewhere” in order to diagnose problems and make fixes. And these systems are “increasingly sophisticated,” Mitchell added, “to the point at which if you don’t have reliable access to the Internet, your ability to be an automotive repair shop is badly impaired.”
With reliable and affordable high-speed Internet, “We would see a whole lot more innovation, a lot more home-based businesses,” Mitchell said, “which has all kinds of spillover effects for the rest of us in terms of less pollution and less congestion on the roads.”
Building the necessary infrastructure in communities throughout the country provides benefits that “accrue to all of us,” but, “they’re not easily monetized for higher profit,” Mitchell asserted. That, he added, is “why it would be better for the public sector to be involved.”