Friday, August 6, 2010

Public Infrastructure

Public infrastructure exists to benefit the public and yet there is a general trend to change how people use the resources created with their tax dollars. An example is the smart meters being installed on homes which is intended to shift people's usage to off peak hours and reduce the strain on the system. But, why is the system under strain? With advanced planning, why has the infrastructure not kept up with the demand? Wouldn't that be in the best interests of the public?

I believe the answer lies in the fact that so much public infrastructure is not longer maintained by the public. In the last couple of decades, governments have been privatizing everything in the belief that companies will provide the service more efficiently. Unfortunately, businesses only care about the bottom line and will not invest in improvements of the infrastructure. They won't act in the best interests on the public.

The telcos are a good example of this problem. They were granted rights of way and a monopoly in their region, in exchange for maintaining basic telephone service, a public infrastructure. They've done this for over a hundred years in some places. But now the telcos act as if they built all that infrastructure without any public assistance, even as they use their granted rights of way to lay fibre on public land.

The telcos complain that the paying customers are using to much of the bandwidth during peak times and want usage based billing to modify the customers behaviour. They will gladly sell you a 20Mb/s connection but will impose a ridiculously low limit on how much data you can transfer. It's exactly the same rationale the electricity company uses to control power usage. But it is really just a way to hide the fact that they haven't been investing in the infrastructure to support the demands being placed on it.

The real question is how does a modern economy flourish with such artificial limits imposed upon it? The answer is, it can't. When your public infrastructure is unable to support the economy, it will fail eventually.

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