Ben Bernanke’s announcement of a third round of bond buying by the Federal Reserve, also known as QE3, came as both no surprise to anybody and as a great relief to global markets, which have shot up this morning overseas by anywhere from 1.5 (Japan) to 3 (Korea) percent. When I heard this morning on NPR that this will entail spending $40B a month to buy mortgage bonds with no end in sight “until the labor market substantially improves” (NASDAQ community/FXStreet.com), I started thinking that if the Fed can inject that much money into the economy, why can’t the Feds (the US Federal Government, that is) inject $2-3B a month into building out our national fiber optics communications/Internet infrastructure?
The US has fallen behind 9 other countries including South Korea, Japan and Hong Kong, but also the Netherlands, Latvia, Switzerland, Ireland, the Czech Republic, and even Romania when it comes to speeds and overall access to the Internet (source: Analysis of the Q4 2011 Akamai report on the “State of the Internet” from The Huffington Post). Other sources from 2011 (TechSpot) and 2009 (Phys.org) rank the US at 26th and 28th in Internet speeds, respectively, for those years. Whatever the actual case may be, it’s clear that the USA — which is where the Internet was invented, and where much of the technology impetus for its continued growth and elaboration still originates — is falling behind in providing its citizens with access to all of the information and opportunity that the Internet can offer.
So here’s my idea: let’s all write our Congresspeople to ask them to unite to provide funding for a nationwide build-out of fiber optic access to homes, schools, businesses, and organizations all over the United States. We can start with major urban areas and work our way out into the periphery and hinterlands over the next decade. This will not only produce an economic stimulus because of all the spending on cable and equipment for infrastructure, and the jobs that come from designing, excavating, installing and maintaining this stuff (I’ve read estimates that for every $1B spend on government contracts, somewhere between 1,000 and 1,200 new jobs get created) but will also open the digital doors for all kinds of Web- and Internet-based innovation that should make it easier for people to find jobs in telecommunications, networking, software development, and on and on and on.
In addition to QE3, let’s push hard for FO1 (Fiber-Optic build-out 1), too! It will not only help boost the economy in the short term with spending on cable, equipment and construction, but will boost the job market in the long run by opening up the Internet to further innovation and development, with all of the new companies and jobs that will create as well. And if we spend $360B on this build-out, that will create 360,000 – 432,000 jobs outright, and I’m guessing as many as 10 times more because of all the new business opportunities and markets this universal access program will enable. I like to think of it as a “Digital New Deal.” Go USA!