Tuesday, February 03, 2009

In the News: Federal Spending and a New $10 Laptop Initiative

February 3, 2009
Internet Money in Fiscal Plan: Wise or Waste?

WASHINGTON — At first glance, perhaps no line item in the nearly $900 billion stimulus program under consideration on Capitol Hill would seem to offer a more perfect way to jump-start the economy than the billions pegged to expand broadband Internet service to rural and underserved areas.

Proponents say it will create jobs, build crucial infrastructure and begin to fulfill one of President Obama’s major campaign promises: to expand the information superhighway to every corner of the land, giving local businesses an electronic edge and offering residents a dazzling array of services like online health care and virtual college courses.

But experts warn that the rural broadband effort could just as easily become a $9 billion cyberbridge to nowhere, representing the worst kind of mistakes that lawmakers could make in rushing to approve one of the largest spending bills in history without considering unintended results...[more here, from the NYT]

January 30, 2009
India Announces Prototype of $10 Laptop for Education

India’s ministry in charge of higher education says it will make low-power laptops available, at a cost of just $10 apiece, to the Indian market within six months — as part of a major initiative to increase the number of students going to college, The Indian Express reports.

R. P. Agrawal, India’s secretary of higher education, told the newspaper that online courses are the only way to bring quality education to remote areas of the country. He added that the ministry is working out ways to beam lectures from the Indian Institute of Technology across the country. “We will be providing free e-content to students,” Mr. Agrawal said. [More here, from the CHE]


  1. I think Craig Settles brings up a good point in the nytimes article related to our readings this week. Would the broadband even be used if it was available?

  2. The concept of an economic "Price Floor" seemed to connect to the NYT article about the government's proposed broadband program. The basic idea of a price floor is that there will be societal inefficiency if a base price (in this context, minimum bandwidth requirement) is established but is higher than the equilibrium price. The reason that I thought about this idea is the implications a government requirement could have on the civilians/businesses located in rural towns that currently lack broadband internet. If the bill were to hypothetically go into play and the rural town's current ISPs could not meet the required speed, there would be negative effects for the business and the residents. The ISPs could go out of business if they don't provide the standard internet speed, ultimately leaving the customer without any form of internet service.

    I think that writer brought up a good analogy, comparing the proposed broadband service as "[a] Cadillac service where an economy car would be just as useful". This relates to the question brought up in last week's discussion: Is it important? While broadband would be nice to have in a rural space, would its costs overpower its benefits?

    Something to think about. Also, here is a link to a better explanation of a price floor: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Price_floor

  3. Well, that brings up a couple of things. To go off the car analogy, what would the economy car look like, in this case, if broadband service is a Cadillac? I feel like most of us might look at broadband internet access (be it wireless at school, Charter at home, whatever) as more of a utility rather than a luxury at this point. Would the alternative be no service, or dialup, or something else?

    The other thing that comes to mind is the Field of Dreams axiom, the "If you build it they will come" school of thought. In other words, offering the service might spur growth and development at some cost or some possible waste, but we know that _not_ offering it will certainly not provide growth and development at all.

    So is it a question of striking a balance?

  4. Somehow this is reminiscent to me of the discussions of wiring the country with electricity in the last century. The poor rural districts were the last to get power lines because the power companies operate at a loss to have to maintain so many miles of power lines with so few customers. But the government helped run the lines in the first place because they felt that the rural areas would fall behind the cities if they did not make an effort to balance the infrastructure across the country.

    Is the internet going to become as vital to our everyday lives as electricity? Is it a luxury or a utility? If the government is pushing to offer its publications in an online format, do they not also have a responsibility to support the infrastructure of the web?

    Have you ever tried to download a government pdf (like the instructions for the 1040A tax forms) on dial up? It's wretched.