The Right Way to Expand Broadband
In his state of the state address, Governor Parson touted broadband expansion in Missouri and proposed spending significantly more money to go further. From the speech:
Last year, we made one of the largest investments in broadband expansion across our state. Thanks to our efforts, nearly 70,000 under-served homes and businesses across our state Now have broadband. But we know we can’t stop now. That is why we are investing an additional $250 million dollars to do even more. If we can put electricity in every home, we can do the same with broadband today. We are not done until every home, every school, every business, and every farm has access to quality internet.
Most Missourians have access to high-speed internet. For those who don’t—who are primarily in very rural areas—the lack of internet can indeed be an issue. Using federal stimulus funds intended for broadband expansion in Missouri to address that problem is fine with me, but it needs to be done the right way.
What is the right way? It’s to focus on the small number of Missourians who truly have little to no internet access. What is the wrong way to address it? The wrong way is to allow the money to be used by cities and towns to create their own municipal internet companies that will compete with the private sector in communities that the private sector is already serving, like in Marshall, Missouri.
Government-owned networks are subsidized by taxpayers by definition and they have often been a failure when tried around the country. Kentucky is the poster child for this at the state level. Local government in Missouri should not be in the broadband business except as a provider of last resort. Local government is poorly suited to providing services in a rapidly changing, highly technical field like broadband and internet services. For most of Missouri, the private sector has been providing perfectly fine internet services for years. Having cities or counties create their own, taxpayer-subsidized, tax-exempt internet companies will easily be a net negative throughout Missouri.
Get it, “net negative?”