Oh, pandemics, that’s why we need ubiquitous broadband!

I get it, COVID-19 is now going to become everyone’s pet excuse for funding. Everyone will be lining up at the government trough for their favorite cut of pork. However, I would argue ubiquitous 5G, that we can trust, is a critical national/global priority. Global shutdowns have pushed the conversation way past the historical debates about human rights, and well into the realm of national security. A nation’s military strength is in no small measure a function of its economic strength. The country with the best economy will, all else equal, have the best military, lest they collapse like the Soviets, unable to keep pace. This is fundamentally the reason there is so much conflict between China and the US for economic superiority.

For the average person though, the experience of having school put on pause while school districts assessed and responded to the digital divide, has been a real eye-opener. Rich & middle-class children were held hostage by the lack of broadband access to poor children. It is easy to ignore the plight of the poor when it does not impact you, but when school districts decide to put everything on hold until they have a plan for everyone, then everyone notices the problem – that’s when things become “political”. In the school district I live in, the decision was made to eventually make paper printouts for those that did not have digital access, though there is also a good faith effort to get everyone a Chromebook, though I am unclear how much difference that will make if broadband access does not come with it. Hence, the paper printouts, I guess.

That’s the thing. Digital access is not about one thing alone. It is not about DSL, or Cable, or Wireless, or a cheap Network Computer. It is about everything: the compute, the storage, the network, the software, the teacher, and so on. It is about that word dreaded by engineers, product managers, and almost anyone who has ever worked in a product company. It is about a “solution”.

At a time when the 5G transition could conceivably stall, I can’t think of a better time to have a national debate about ubiquitous 5G. What would be easier: putting a 5G radio in a cheap Chromebook like device, or making sure there is wired broadband, in service, and in use, at every place any child lives? For me, it is a no brainer. The 5G radio in the cheap Chromebook.

As we have this national debate about the education needs of our children, about the need for as many workers as possible to productively work remotely for the future times we shut down offices, we will of course also have a national debate about national security, and which suppliers should or should not be used in networking infrastructure; both metropolitan and rural infrastructure, both of which have national security assets. It is not a fun debate, it sometimes feels racist, but it is a necessary debate. There are real issues to be considered.

Pandemics, the new reason for every piece of government pork. But in the case of education, healthcare, national security, and big chunks of the economy, pandemics, oh yeah, that’s why we need ubiquitous broadband.

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