Friday, July 17, 2009

Stone Tablets

In 2005, Maine established the Broadband Access Infrastructure Board, to work on establishing universal broadband access for the state by 2010.In 2007, the Vermont Telecommunications Authority, with the stated goal of assuring mobile phone and internet coverage to all Vermonters by the end of 2010. In 2009, the NH legislature formed the Telecommunications Planning and Development Advisory Board; whose stated goal is to analyze the broadband infrastructure particularly in unserved and underserved areas.

The United States (where the internet was invented) is lagging behind. We rank 15th in the world for internet speed. Other parts of the world are more wired, and wired for faster speed. One reason for this lag, is that the US has is the only industrialized nation with no policy in place to promote universal high-speed internet access. We’ve relied on a variety of companies to cobble together the current system. In other words – we’ve relied on the free market – just as we have for our health care system. In both instances, millions are left unserved.

Telecommunications are not a fad. The internet is not the equivalent of poodle skirts and the lindy hop. Both our nation, and our state are both behind, because of a lack of vision on the part of our elected officials. A few years ago, at a candidate’s forum, we learned that our local GOP legislators didn’t use their emails. No wonder they weren’t pushing for better broadband access in the north country – they were still chipping away at stone tablets. Meanwhile, manufacturing jobs have flown out of the north, with nothing to replace them. Broadband access is essential to job growth and creation in the 21st century – as well as education and health care.

A task force studying the issue of retaining young people in our state issued a report this week, along with some recommendations. The strongest recommendation seems to be improving how we market the state. There was some concern that the motto of NH doesn’t resonate with younger folks. They also found that there is an impression that young folks can’t find the kind of high paying jobs here that they would find in Boston or NY. To correct this perception, the task force seems to be recommending a hip ad campaign – because after all, if we say that high paying jobs are here, they will be, right? As is often the case, this task force assumes that the Canadian border is located just north of Concord. There was a mention of bridging the digital divide, by expanding broadband access in the north country, but that was the only recommendation aimed specifically at the Forgotten Half of the state.

The American Heart Association is calling for high-speed broadband access in rural areas, to enable videoconferencing for stroke patients. They have the right idea. Videoconferencing technology would make a huge difference in the lives of rural doctors and patients. Folks might not have to drive 2-3 hours to access a specialist, or to even ask a doctor a question about a particular condition. Data and imaging materials could be transferred in real time, thus saving hours of waiting for hospitals, doctors, and patients. The possibilities for improved health care in rural areas are exciting. NH, Maine, and VT have formed the New England Telehealth Consortium to work on these issues, with the hopes of eventually connecting to a similar network comprised of Connecticut, Massachusetts, and Rhode Island. The future is here, if we choose be part of it.

Meanwhile, our neighboring states are way ahead of us. Vermont and Maine both have a goal of universal internet access by 2010. NH has no such stated goal. We have a company with a monopoly in the north country, a company that is likely to declare bankruptcy by the end of the year, and NH is doing nothing remotely proactive. Vermont’s Department of Public Service is calling for an investigation into whether FairPoint should be allowed to continue to operate in VT, if it doesn’t fix billing, customer service, and operational problems.

We need to push our north country legislators to get them to push to bring the north country into the 21st century. The north country is all too often a dumping ground for projects that NIMBY legislators from the southern part of the state don’t want located near them. This is why there are 2 prisons in Berlin – and why the governor was talking about building a third one up there, so that we could import prisoners from other states. The governor has no plans to move to Berlin, at this time. Senator Lou “Slots” D’Allesandro (from Manchester) is an advocate for increased gambling, and had a plan that called for casinos in the north country. I don’t remember voting for Slots, do you?

Get pushy with your elected officials. The north country needs the equivalent of the rural electrification program. It won’t happen if we don’t hold their feet, and their stone tablets to the fire.

"I think there is a world market for maybe five computers." --Thomas Watson, chairman of IBM, 1943

" I have traveled the length and breadth of this country and talked with the best people, and I can assure you that data processing is a fad that won't last the year." --The editor in charge of business books for prentice Hall, 1957

"There is no reason anyone would want a computer in their home."
--Ken Olson, president, chairman and founder of Digital Equipment Corp., 1977

© s. bruce 2009 This was published as an op-ed in the Conway Daily Sun on July 17, 2009


DissedBelief said...

What a great article Susan. Insightful and makes me wonder why on earth we are so darn backwards? And we come right back again to the "free enterprise system" which means essentially no standardization. If a high bar was set, and high speed was a demand by the Feds for all service providers, wouldn't we at least have a faster and better chance of economic recovery across the board? I may be incorrect, but I thought I read a few years ago that FIOS was instituted after the second world war. One of the first fiber optic cables was installed across the Atlantic?

Nick said...


I agree that universal internet access would have a positive impact on this state. I am one of those so call "young people" that has recently decided to make New Hampshire my home. Although I can not speak for those who grow up in the North Country and leave for whatever reason, I can say that I was neither deterred by our "Live Free or Die" motto nor did the marketing (what marketing?) of the state any way influence my decision to reside here. After several months I find it disappointing that the Mount Washington Valley is lacking amenities areas of equal population enjoy in its sister states.

Anonymous said...

In a nutshell, in the 80's and 90's AT&T's monopoly split up. Verizon and other companies grew from that splintering. These new companies benefited from AT&T's historical monopoly and many had their own monopolies in smaller geographic areas. (Unlike the whole country as occurred with At&T.) When Verizon found the Northern New England market unprofitable they auctioned off their Northern New England business to the highest bidder. FairPoint won the bid and continues on the historical monopoly in telecommunications.

The solution is to abolish State's granted privilege monopoly to these telecommunications companies. Individuals can and should make their own decisions on who they want to do business with.