If I Had a Hammer

by Russ Roberts on August 9, 2005

in Politics

There’s a movement afoot to provide broadband publicly:

Technological advances, dissatisfaction with the nation’s broadband
pace over the past several years, and the dynamics of convergence have
led "digital municipalism" to hit its stride.

Many cities want to offer broadband networks at low cost, or free.

Actually, cities don’t have desires.  Voters do.  Politicians do.  So I think the correct language would be something like:

Significant numbers of voters would like to have politicians force a lot of other voters to pay for something they enjoy.  Politicians often find this attractive as long as the numbers make sense.  As a result, many politicians in various cities are proposing public funded broadband efforts.

I know it takes too much space to be accurate.  ‘Cities want’ is just shorthand.  But I think it’s important to remember what the phrase really means.

I also know that part of the reason for this movement is the slow pace of private broadband.  But that, too, I suspect, is partly due to the desires of politicians rather than the fault of private broadband providers.

The reason language is important is that corrupt language about the desires of cities masks the fact that many citizens in those cities pushing public broadband, would really like a school system that works rather than the ability to download video clips quickly.  That alas, the public sector is unable to provide.  But broadband?  That’s an engineering problem, something that can actually get accomplished.  Politicians inevitably like things that can be done so that they can be waved about triumphantly.  If you only have a hammer, everything looks like a nail.  Spending money is the hammer of politics.

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