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So Much for a “Fundamental Right”

February 11, 2013

A €9.2bn fund proposed by Brussels officials to help bring faster broadband to the 27 Member States by 2020 has been obliterated after the European Union agreed to a budget cut that was engineered by Brit Prime Minister David Cameron.

It’s a disaster for commissioner Neelie Kroes, whose digital agenda has been left in tatters with investment for broadband deployments proving to be the biggest casualty.

The fund was hacked down to €1B instead, leading said government functionary to whine publicly on her blog:

I am of course disappointed that Member  States could not agree on our proposal for the digital part of the  Connecting Europe Facility, only agreeing to €1 billion out of the €9.2  billion we had put forward.
This still leaves room to invest in service  infrastructure, in fields like eProcurement and eInvoicing, that can  support a digital single market and ensure top-quality, 21st century  public services for Europeans.
But this funding will have to be exclusively  for digital services: because such a smaller sum does not leave room for  investing in broadband networks. I regret that: because broadband is  essential for a digital single market, the  rails on which all tomorrow’s digital services will run; and this could  have been an innovative and highly-market oriented way to deliver it,  almost budget-neutral in the long run.

Um, okay.  This is a wonderful political statement, but let’s unpack.  What we call high-speed internet is only high speed when everyone else has less.  So if this is an effort to equalize internet speeds… well, someone will always come out with faster, which spins the wheel again.  Also, I’ve tended to notice that the internet fills up available bandwidth nicely.  Nobody complained when they could get it on modems until video and images started popping up.  Then high-def video entered once we’d built up the first wave of DSL.  And so on… when you provide a space to fill, technology fills it up.

So the wisdom of trying to drop a line out to some mountain-top residence only goes as far as the speed of government and the ability of the technology to make whatever the government intended to deploy obsolete.  I’d bet on technology every time in that scenario.  The lesson here is really that government can’t spend on every pet project, and technology is almost always too dynamic for government to keep up, so it’ll suffer.

In the mean time, I’m sure commercial entities will happily spring up for those people who actually want faster internet to watch pictures of cats.  It’s called capitalism, and it tends to work at a much faster pace than government does.

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