As political battles over budgets and deficits continue to rage in D.C. and statehouses across the nation, the dominant rhetoric continues to be that the vast majority of the nation must bear the burden of “shared sacrifices” – fewer teachers, hospitals, and other social services – while the wealthy continue to enjoy substantial tax cuts. In other words, working families have to cope with a financial crisis created by Wall Street while those that got us here in the first place pay no price.
Now, the very corporations that we support through these tax cuts and subsidies such as access to roads, utility poles, and other local infrastructure, are marshaling their increasingly powerful resources in an attempt to cut one of the most critical efforts underway to strengthen communities and rebuild prosperity in state economies: the build-out of broadband networks.
There is something very wrong with this picture.
In general, austerity measures do not work. As the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a non-partisan think-tank, has explained, spending cuts are a bad idea during an economic downturn because they reduce demand, threatening to make the downturn deeper. Slow economic growth, high unemployment, and decreasing revenues have also been cited as primary causes of states’ budget deficits. Over the years that corporations have enjoyed these vast benefits, our nation has lagged behind in the global market, including in the field of technology and broadband, where the United States is now in 16th place.
Instead of austerity measures, we need investments in infrastructure to revamp our local economies. Communities across the nation need critical resources like broadband to succeed in a 21st century economy. It is undeniable that infrastructure plays a critical role in the public’s access to needed services like hospitals and schools. Workers, small businesses, and students all increasingly depend on infrastructure like broadband in order to function in a modern economy.
Thankfully, local entities – including municipalities and private non-profits – have taken leadership in addressing these needs. Local governments and non-profits have stepped up to the plate to provide needed infrastructure to their communities. And they have done it on their own, meeting their populations’ needs, and even getting ahead of large corporate broadband providers.
Despite the leadership shown at the local level, some state governments are taking steps to eliminate this promising effort, as intense lobbying efforts by huge corporations seem, sadly, to be paying off.
The bottom line is this: Broadband is no longer a luxury, it is an investment we absolutely need to make in order to ensure prosperity in our communities and the competitiveness of our states as well as our nation in a global economy. Our economy cannot afford to let corporations reap more profits for themselves at the expense of the public good.
At a moment when applying for jobs, doing homework, registering to vote, and accessing other essential information can only be done online, broadband – or high-speed internet – is the new utility of our times. It is no longer a luxury, but a vital tool for our economic survival. One hundred million Americans – comprising a third of the nation – do not have broadband at home, and the United States continues to lag behind a large number of our international economic competitors in broadband access and speed. The facilitation of internet services must be seen as part of any comprehensive local economic development strategy.
In an increasingly globalized economy, why are we doing so poorly as a nation when it comes to broadband? Failed models based on consumption only favor a few broadband providers. Policies influenced by industry lobbying have created a system where one incumbent internet service provider is given virtually monopolistic control over broadband services in our communities. With only profit margins in mind, large private service providers do not consider the long term economic impact in communities – and far less so for minority populations. With one third of the country remaining digitally disconnected, we clearly need to examine alternative models of ownership, technology, economic development, and social inclusion.
More than 130 communities own broadband networks in the country. Not only are community networks a viable alternative to private providers, but the evidence shows that some of them offer a service that is superior to incumbents. Despite their proven track record and support from the FCC, about 18 states have either defacto or outright bans on the development of local broadband networks. Some state legislators are finally taking notice of the potential that community-based broadband networks can have in their districts and are not only voting against legislation like those existing in the Carolinas, but are actually taking steps to allow public utilities to own networks and use their consumer base to offer broadband.
Research Roundup: Immigrants Pay Taxes Too (And Lots of Them!) - Plus the Costs of Prison Privatization and More
In this week’s PSN Research Roundup: a report from Policy Matters Ohio on the real costs of prison privatization, an analysis by the Immigration Policy Center on the billions of dollars of contributions made by undocumented immigrants to state and local tax coffers, and a study on the high cost of immigration enforcement to the nation’s currently cash-strapped cities by the Drum Major Institute for Public Policy.
Cells For Sale: Understanding Prison Costs And Savings – This report by former investigative reporter Bob Paynter for Policy Matters Ohio examines the effects of prison privatization in the Buckeye state, including claims by supporters that the privatization of two state prisons has saved state taxpayers $45 million over the past 10 years. Analyzing those claims in the context of a renewed push for prison privatization by Ohio Governor Kasich, the report concludes that state officials “still hadn’t developed an accurate, reliable way to compute how much, if anything, they had actually saved.”
Unauthorized Immigrants Pay Taxes, Too – This excellent Immigration Policy Center analysis of undocumented residents’ contributions to state tax coffers via personal income taxes; property taxes; and sales taxes refutes the flawed conventional wisdom on immigrants economic roles. In fact, the report found undocumented immigrants paid over $11 billion in state and local taxes nationwide in 2011 alone.
The Cost of Failure: The Burden of Immigration Enforcement in America’s Cities – This study of the high cost of immigration enforcement to the nation’s cash-strapped cities by the Drum Major Institute for Public Policy underscores the flawed and onerous nature of federal immigration laws and programs being imposed on state and local governments. In particular, the report points out a Government Accountability Office report that found 62% of local law enforcement agencies participating in the 287(g) program receive no reimbursement from the federal government for costs associated with the program.
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