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Business - Written by on Friday, January 9, 2009 16:58 - 5 Comments

Broad Band(ages) aren’t the Solution

I’ll start off here by introducing myself – I’m the new intern here at nGenera (which I’m pretty excited about).  As you can see from my bio, a lot of my interests have to do with politics, so I thought that would be a good jumping-off point for my first blog posting on the website.  So here it is!  Please post below if you have any thoughts on it, I’d love to hear your opinions.

Reading the news this morning, I came across this story.  As you’ve probably heard, the U.S. deadline to switch over to all-digital broadcast television is just over a month away, February 17th.  The problem, however, is that an estimated 7.7 million Americans haven’t switched over from analog, and risk having their televisions go black.

The purpose of this switchover isn’t to provide better quality television for couch potatoes.  Switching over to all-digital broadcasting incurs lower energy costs than analog broadcasting.  It also frees up analog airwaves for public safety use (which became a policy goal following 9/11), as well as increased usage by telecommunications companies. 

I’ll come back to this.

Also filling up headlines today was yesterday’s speech from President Obama, wherein he called for swift congressional action to pass his still-emerging economic stimulus package, which could cost, over two years, up to a trillion dollars.  That’s $1 000 000 000 000 – lots of zeros, eh?

You’ll notice I wrote “still emerging” in the above paragraph.  That’s because as of today, there’s an incredible amount of debate as to how this money will be spent.  Obviously, the usual suspects have lined up behind the usual causes – Republicans want tax cuts, Michigan wants support for the manufacturing industry, and most private sectors, from the airconditioning industry to the catfish farmers, have sent in their lobbyists.

My concern with this is that Americans will be facing an enormous public expenditure that’s basically just patchwork.  Infrastructure projects are merited in many cases, but the idea of solving this crisis simply by creating demand-side stimulus is flawed – they’d merely be putting bandaids over the fundamental problems that got us here in the first place.

As for my opinion, you have to keep in mind that I’m a NetGener.  So I see a lot of merit in a more digitized economy (and government).  If I was an American, I’d also, as a young person, fall within the demographic that’s going to have to carry the federal debt in the decades to come, so I’d want  to see money spent in ways that will improve the economy in the long-term.

Now, this brings me back to the top of this article – digitized television, the benefits of which I’ve listed above.  I can support public funding on this because it’s a good long-term investment.  What else do I think is a good long-term investment?  A national broadband policy to extend access across the whole country.  Digitized medical records.  More computers and internet access in schools.  Most importantly, America needs more funding targeted at actually teaching people how to use these new technologies (which is the main roadblock in the digitized television initiative I touched on above). 

Improving technology, digitizing the country and teaching people how to use these tools should be a crucial centrepiece in long-term economic planning.  This would facilitate the movement of more Americans towards mass collaboration, and other Wikinomics principles, the merits of which can be found in any of the blogs you’ll see on this site.

So if America is going to spend a trillion dollars on a stimulus package, let’s hope that Obama remembers these promises that he made back in November, and embraces a few Gov 2.0 and Wikinomics principles.


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Jan 11, 2009 12:20

Great Blog! I am interested to find out whether this move to all-digital broadcast will help spur computer sales. What do you think?

Jan 11, 2009 17:09

I think you’ve really hit the nail on the head here Alex – with the whole world ablaze with talk of bailouts being the only answer, who’s to say that throwing money at this problem is enough to stop it? This isn’t just a “we ran out of money” issue, this is a systemic issue and I agree that it’s going to take long-term infrastructure investments to ensure that the US isn’t mortgaging their future to get through the next couple of years.

With respect to your ideas, do you think that the US will be willing to dive into technology to the extent you suggest? I’m sure many are still wary of how fragile technology can be – they’re trying to get Obama to throw away his blackberry for security reasons, we saw the TSX go down recently due to simple technology issues, etc.

Great post – added to the Google Reader.

Alex Marshall
Jan 11, 2009 22:50

Thanks for the input gentlemen, much appreciated.

Fahd – to be honest, I’m not entirely sure what the digital television broadcasting will do to computer sales. But the national broadband policy should cause a boost to computer sales, given that many people who previously had poor internet access will now have a reason to upgrade.

Ken – I heard Paul Krugman (2008 Nobel Prize winner for economics) on a tv interview a while ago and he sounded somewhat pessimistic on the technology issue. He thought that a lot of the stimulus would be directed to manufacturing and construction-type jobs, and not as innovative as it could be.
I’m inclined to feel the same. As far as constituent support, a lot more voters (and elected officials) are likely to support physical infrastructure projects that are much more visible than the type of innovative ones that I’m looking at.
That said, I think the national broadband strategy and the digitized medical records will stick. Beyond that, we’ll see.

Jan 13, 2009 16:15

When North America goes all digital, will there be cave dwelling survialist and other whackjobs who think the world has ended?

I’ll be watching CNN to see people spout and foam at the mouth about the injustice of it all (in a way it IS unjust).


Feb 23, 2009 1:34

Thanks for sharing information and i appreciate it.Looking for more discussion and waiting for new topics here.

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