Monday, February 13, 2006

Hanging Up the Phone

Incendiary online rhetoric from the New Networks Institute is aiming to get netizens calling for heads on pikes. A New York Times story on the Institute's allegations, "A Rant, All 406 Pages of It," describes outrage over promised national "fiber optics networks," which were funded with tax incentives but never materialized. The group also claims that the legal definition of "broadband" itself became 225 times slower as a result of years of industry lobbying. Thus households are forced to settle for shoddier DSL at pricey rates that add insult to injury.

The initial network promises were part of the 1996 Telecommunications Reform Act, which can probably be added to the Virtualpolitik running tally of Clinton-era Internet policy mistakes. However, the lack of mutual assurances in the legislation was most egregiously exploited under the Bush FCC. (As a sidenote, I have to point out that the FCC website is generally pretty loathsome as an example of information design, but I do like their spiffy online Freedom of Information request form.)

With broadband policies like these the U.S. will continue to slip in the international rankings, below where we currently are at either 12th or 16th place, depending on whom you ask. We shouldn't be calling for blood, but maybe its time to ramp up the rhetoric and be calling for votes.

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