Channel Insider content and product recommendations are editorially independent. We may make money when you click on links to our partners. Learn More.

The subject line was very catchy – “Free Broadband from the Government Good/Bad”.

One of the discussion groups I’m on lit up with a discussion about the government and a broadband plan. Since my office has a reasonably nice view of the US Marine Corps Memorial, and my morning commute gives me a nice view of the Washington Monument as I approach the Potomac River, you might guess I have some contact with the federal government.  I was surprised to learn that the Fed was going to dig a trench in my backyard and give me high speed Internet connectivity.  It would certainly save me a pretty penny. Perhaps a Man in Black will arrive with fiber cables to connect to my house.

Of course, that’s not what “The Plan” is.  You can actually read it here and I found the Executive Summary to be very good. In particular, the six major goals of the effort give some indication of what the plan is.

Picking on Washington plans is often sport, particularly for those who don’t take the time to read the laws. I didn’t know a lot about this particular initiative, but happen to know someone who does. Lawyers are quite an industry here in Washington, and I have some friends involved in that industry, and spent some time talking with Nathan Campbell, a telecommunications attorney here in the DC area. He was familiar with the plan, and he helped me out with some of the specifics.

“The National Broadband Plan is the equivalent of rural electrification for the 21st century. It’s not ‘free’ or even government-subsidized broadband, it’s the federal government’s attempt to lower infrastructure costs in a way that encourages private providers to spur development in areas that are currently underserved,” he said.

This makes a lot of sense. With all of our talk of “Cloud” and the future of technology, if we don’t have the right infrastructure this is going to be critical. The comparison to electrification not only fits with previous writing on this topic (such as Nick Carr’s “The Big Switch”), but also the coverage problem in the sections of the country like the Midwest. Even here in a major metropolitan area, my own office building doesn’t have multiple options for connectivity that are of the high speed we’re looking for. Unless we can ensure we have connectivity everywhere, it will be very challenging to deliver services based upon cloud-based services.

In fact, government can make a big difference, as Nathan continues. “The federal government can impact all levels of government either through legislation or rulemaking (the FCC recently imposed limits on the amount of time local governments have to review telecommunications permit applications) or through leading by example (simplifying the process for locating equipment on federal property, public rights-of-ways, utility poles and other public infrastructure.)”

Part of Nathan’s job is working with carriers to ensure they have access to the right land options for putting the physical infrastructure in place.  

As for the price tag for this plan? From the Executive Summary:

“Given the plan’s goal of freeing 500 megahertz of spectrum, future wireless auctions mean the overall plan will be revenue neutral, if not revenue positive. The vast majority of recommendations do not require new government funding; rather, they seek to drive improvements in government efficiency, streamline processes and encourage private activity to promote consumer welfare and national priorities. The funding requests relate to public safety, deployment to unserved areas and adoption efforts. If the spectrum auction recommendations are implemented, the plan is likely to offset the potential costs.”

That’s even better news. This is a government directive that is intended to not only not cost money, but potentially drive efficiency, process, and encourage private growth. Public-private partnerships can be some of the most beneficial ways to stimulate the economy, with each side doing what they do best.  

I’m a particular fan of Goal No. 2 “The United States should lead the world in mobile innovation, with the fastest and most extensive wireless networks of any nation.”

It’s important to understand that sometimes it takes a national vision to achieve something great. The Apollomoon landings would not have happened without a bold declaration from our leadership. Technologies that make a massive difference in our lives, such as innovations in integrated circuits, avionics, telecommunications, cooling, recycling, food, insulation, and fuel cells all came from this government led initiative.

This National Broadband Plan could be taken as the US IT industry’s own Apollo program. We may not launch someone to the moon, but it’s a major initiative and critical. The plan is before Congress this week. I think it’s one to be wholeheartedly supported.