Shoot! All this talk of a rural broadband stimulus creating jobs has everybody in the Back 40 in such an uproar that they're taking the grass stalks out of their teeth to jaw about it, so I might as well join 'em. Just hang on a sec while I spit my tobacco juice on the ground.
Former FCC economist Michael Katz let loose at a recent American Enterprise Institute panel discussion about the broadband stimulus piece of President Obama's stimulus bill. Specifically, this is the $7.2 billion earmarked to expand broadband Internet access in rural and underserved areas. To be brief, Katz is against it and believes the money could better be used elsewhere.
According to the New York Times, most of the economists at the meeting said that broadband-stimulus based job creation in rural areas would be very difficult to quantify.
Will a rural broadband stimulus package create more jobs‾ I surely do not know. Maybe in the short term. But there's a bigger issue at stake. I don't see it being only about jobs. We all know that 'underserved' areas are locations where service providers don't think they'll be able to make enough money now that there's no more guaranteed rate of return, as there was when the telephone company was a monopoly.
So why extend broadband there? And when we say 'underserved,' we all know it's a synonym for 'inner city.' In rural areas, there are big, expensive expanses of land to cover, and there aren't as many people living there. But so what?
Service providers are spending a lot of money deploying broadband in the U.S., even in this economy, but not necessarily in rural and underserved areas. What I find interesting about a good deal of the 'should rural areas have broadband' debate is that it becomes an 'us vs. them' argument.