America’s Internet infrastructure is terrible. By every measure, we could be doing vastly better. And it seems likely that Obama is going to make getting everyone the Internet a key provision of his State of the Union address. But what’s the plan, and what will you hear?
First off, expect him to pick a fight with your cable company. Obama wants to make it possible for any municipality to build their own broadband network if they so choose, something cable companies loathe because it’d force them to pay for infrastructure upgrades. One of the key problems is that several states have laws in place specifically banning any sort of government broadband network; take a guess as to which companies are behind these laws.
In other words, he’ll be starting a long, complicated legal fight that the cable companies are eventually going to to lose. And might be rendered moot anyway by new technologies, but hey, if we can stick it to Comcast, tax dollars well spent.
Next, expect net neutrality to come up. We’ve talked about Obama’s ambitious ideas for keeping the Internet neutral, and in fact, he’s pulled his usual institutional judo routine to create actual change: The GOP is currently trying to get net neutrality legislation passed after finding themselves lumped in with the single most profoundly disliked companies in America. Of course, they also want to ban the FCC from regulating broadband, but it’s unlikely this bill will pass in its current form anyway.
It seems unlikely Obama will propose anything specific; he’s already done that, and made it clear to the FCC what he wants. But he will bring it up.
As for what effects you’ll see… good question! Net neutrality is almost certainly coming: The FCC has been trying to make it happen for a while and new rules are due in February. The public sentiment is strongly for net neutrality, and the consequences of it are obvious to anybody trying to watch Netflix on a Verizon connection.
Stripping the cable companies of their monopoly on Internet access is inevitable, but it’s going to be a vicious and long fight. For one thing, these are individual laws passed state by state, so they’re all different and thus have to be addressed differently. That said, the clock is ticking for cable; Elon Musk is launching 700 satellites to blanket the entire Earth with an Internet connection, for example. White space broadband becoming widely available is increasingly a matter of when, not if. And the whole infrastructure could crap the bed; already, all it takes is some idiot flipping the wrong switch and 11 million people lose their Internet connection.
In other words, net neutrality will happen quickly. But improving the Internet itself will take a much longer time. Expect this to keep coming up in State of the Union addresses, even when Obama’s out of office.