Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Now We're Talking!

Who'da figured that the New York State gubenatorial race would become a hotbed of progressive ideas?

Here you have Eliot Spitzer with a commanding lead over his nominal primary opponent, Tom Suozzi, and a significant lead over "the other guy" (aka the stooge the NYS GOP puts up against Spitzer).

While Suozzi could make some news and noise going out on a limb and proposing congestion pricing on state highways, Spitzer can sit back and talk about how green the grass is, and how we can make it even greener by fertilizing a few times a season.

But no:
Spitzer pushes for universal Internet access

By Justin Rocket Silverman
amNewYork staff writer

May 16, 2006

Citing a 1934 law that ensured telephone service for every American household, state Attorney General Eliot Spitzer said Monday that the federal government must now make the same guarantee for Internet access.

Until that happens, the gubernatorial candidate proposes that New York State take responsibility for ensuring there is no velvet rope blocking the entrance to the World Wide Web.

"We must make New York State the most connected and technologically advanced place to live and do business in the world," Spitzer said during a speech in Manhattan at the Personal Democracy Forum, which examined the intersection of technology and politics. "The problem isn't a lack of resources, it's a lack of imagination and a lack of leadership."

Yet as Spitzer himself pointed out Monday, the goal of universal Internet access could require a major shift in the way broadband, DSL and dial-up connections are provided.

Only one-third of New York City residents have high-speed connections at home, and there are vast swaths of upstate counties where high-speed service is simply not offered because providers don't think they can make a profit.

He emphasized that he does not want the state to give away Internet service for free, but decried current conditions where a family in the South Bronx pays twice as much as a family in South Korea for service that is only half as fast.
There you go! In a nutshell, the trouble with America, its education system, and its government: in an information society, we need to provide information as if it was a utility.

See, I think there are some things that cry out for government regulation, being the liberal that I am. Things like water, electricity, telephone service, and yes, information, demand careful government oversight in order to realize the fruits of these technologies and resources.

When AT&T was a monopoly, they could afford to spend money on research and development and because of that, not only did telephony improve (to the point where America became the first nationally wired nation of the size that it is), but advances in other fields as diverse as astronomy and biology took hold.

Why? Because while AT&T was limited in the amount they could charge their customers, there was no limit to the profit they could make on that money. Ergo, they spent on things that would help them lower their costs.

We got reasonably cheap phone service (no, it wasn't "market competition" cheap, but I'll get to that in a moment), improved service, and connectivity. When competition was forced upon AT&T (the breakup in 1984), things did not markedly improve. In fact, there was not one single new technology developed after 1984 that was not already in the works in 1984, or at least mapped out on a drawing board somewhere.

Yes, there were improvements in cell phone service, but have you ever seen what European or Asian cell phones can do, as compared to our "free market" services?

In Finland, you can buy a soda from a machine using your cell phone. They've been able to do that for years. Only recently, have we started to see the slightest hint of that technology here in America.

Why? Because Europe standardized their phone signal. Government regulation forced the phone companies to design their technology around that one standard.

I'll have more on this discussion in the coming weeks. Let me get back to Spitzer's idea.

Universal internet access from home is an idea whose time has come. There's a deep divide in this nation between the wired and the unwired. The opinions you see reflected on the internet, on this blog and on EVERY OTHER BLOG, are those posted by people with the means (e.g. money) to afford a computer, even if that computer is at their workplace, or the local library.

Decisions that affect our country get their impetus, in part, from the Net. What we've created in the past ten years (I say this as one of the original Prodigy subscribers and someone who's lurked The Well and EchoNY from before the WWW) is a digital serfdom: those who aren't "linked" are doomed to be led around by those who are.

That has to change. It's only fair. Thank you, Eliot.

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