State Of The Net: Blair Levin Tells Us To Not Freak Out Yet On Obama's Broadband Plan
from the benefit-of-the-doubt? dept
On Wednesday, I got to attend the Congressional Internet Caucus' State of the Net 2009 conference, where the opening (surprise) speaker, was Blair Levin, one of President Elect Obama's tech transition team. In his remarks, he clearly tried to respond to these criticisms raised by us and others by suggesting (1) that the team is still tossing up a variety of ideas and nothing has been concluded and (2) there are two elements that need to be considered: (a) a short-term "stimulus" plan to get the economy churning and create new jobs and (b) a more comprehensive broadband policy. From this, he suggested that the first part -- the "stimulus" part -- would have to involve "existing structures" (i.e., the incumbents), but that was only a piece and "not the whole puzzle" or "just an inning, not the whole ballgame."
While it's a relief that the tech team recognizes there is a larger issue, I think it's important to keep hammering home the point, because this has all the warning signs of a "best laid plans..." situation. The initial "bailout" (and the ISP representatives keep making sure to say "it's a buildout, not a bailout") as an initial stimulus just seems ripe for abuse. The incumbent players have almost no record of either playing fair on these issues or delivering what they promise to deliver. And, why should they? There's been no downside to simply accepting the subsidies and not delivering. And, of course, after that happens, there may be the next crisis to deal with. Do we ever get that really comprehensive broadband plan? Remember, President Bush also had big plans to provide a massive broadband policy... and that went nowhere.
While I understand the point that Levin is making for separating out the short term action and the long term action, it's still not clear that the short term strategy makes sense and will do what it's supposed to do. And then there are questions about whether or not the long term strategy will ever actually show up. Combined... you have to wonder if we're just hearing a lot of hype about nothing. I'm sure Levin and the rest of the team are earnest in what they want to do. From what I've seen from the folks working on the transition, there are an awful lot of really smart, dedicated and sincere folks involved. So that's (at least) a good first step. But going from there to actually implementing something real that's useful? That's a big step, and we've heard enough vague promises over the years not to take such a promise at face value. Hopefully, we'll be surprised, and both the short and long term plans will make sense -- but considering how many times the "best laid plans" of government officials have gone off the road and into a ditch, it's hard to provide the benefit of the doubt without at least a little more info on what's really happening.