Do we really have a problem? Or is this just “government knows best” again?
As I flipped through the paper the other night, the words “broadband” and “imperative” in the same headline caught my eye. Admittedly, I thought to myself, “Here we go again” (“Broadband: Our economic imperative,” March 10).
But instead of scoffing at yet another good or service being thought of by politicians as a “right,” I figured I would give it a read. Despite the much-publicized debacle that is forced, taxpayer-funded health care, two former pols from Minnesota already have moved on to the next misguided public good.
The astounding part this time is that it doesn’t involve dramatic stories of children without health care, pre-existing conditions being denied coverage or felons in the penal system lacking their medications. The imperative is derived from the concept that (are you ready?) people on the outskirts of Minnesota now can’t survive if they are unable to surf Facebook at 10 megabits per second (or greater).
That’s right, the Internet is now a necessary tool for survival — in case you were too busy on hold with the MNsure navigators to notice. The same crowd that couldn’t bear the thought of a cellular tower in the pristine Boundary Waters Canoe Area to provide Internet access now wants taxpayers to fund global (or is it world?) Internet coverage and promise an economic boost if we do, dire consequences if we don’t.
My first question any time I see taxpayer-funded expenditures involving the word “billion” is: Do we really have a problem? Is there a growing demand? Or is this another example of the familiar “government knows best” philosophy? What if people don’t want to subscribe to broadband because they just don’t care about what’s happening on Twitter? How long before the next do-gooder decides that people not having broadband is a pressing national issue and requires them to buy it?
Several avenues exist today that would allow anyone in the sticks with about $30 a month to head to their cellular carrier and pick up a Mi-Fi Hotspot, stick it in their window at home and — voilà! — 4 gigabyte Internet via Verizon, AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, etc. Low on signal in your area? There are external antennas that you can (are you ready?) purchase yourself to boost that signal so even the most desolate of areas can have two to four bars of signal, plenty to carry an Internet session, send an e-mail or Skype the neighbor for a glass of lemonade.
This personal hot-spot technology isn’t new. It has been around for years and is common for those who decide they just can’t be without access. Many smartphone plans today (can we just call them phones now?) provide the hot-spot feature by default, no extra hardware needed. If my septuagenarian parents can figure it out, I am guessing a 22-year-old in Baudette can do so as well.
There is a pattern forming in Minnesota, and nationwide, in which goods and services that traditionally had been offered by nongovernmental organizations as a choice are now considered a “right.” Some who read the “imperative” commentary undoubtedly nodded their heads and thought, “Yah, you betcha! If you aren’t streaming, you aren’t living.” My guess is that they aren’t living in those rural areas, though. The outskirts for many is a choice, a way of life. You want your latte on every other block; they want a round bale every quarter-mile.
Options exist today that don’t require millions or billions of dollars to provide basic Internet coverage. If you want to download recipes for crockpot chicken dumplings, open your pocketbook, head to your nearest cellular store and save your fellow citizens from yet another experiment in which government enters the private sector with good intentions but a history of failure.
Charlie Schmidt lives in Orrock Township, Sherburne County.
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