The Japanese Solution to the Internet’s Troubles

It helps to be humble. Don’t take things for granted.

Don’t thump your chest too much about democracy. You may wake up to find that Mexico has had a free election while some judges selected your own president.

Don’t get all high and mighty over the Japanese, either. Over the last decade, Americans have become accustomed to badmouthing the Japanese: “Their economy stinks, and it’s not getting better. Their economy is an insiders’ club that spends money on useless projects benefiting only the club members while the people suffer. We, on the other hand, have a dynamic, entrepreneurial economy in which businesses rise or fall on their own merits.

“We could never be like the Japanese, and they could never be like us. We’re too different.” But are we?

Japanese politics are seldom relevant to what we cover here, but some interesting things are happening. There’s a newly elected prime minister who isn’t a member of the club. Junichiro Koizumi says he is willing to let inefficient businesses fall, write off bad loans, privatize the post office, and even accept a recession in the name of basic reform.

I don’t know whether he’ll succeed, but the game plan sounds a lot like what Americans usually do. We close failed banks, write off the loans, throw some people in jail, and even elect the political opposition. It’s the flexibility of our economic and political systems that’s our strength. If something doesn’t work, we change it.

Well, gang, some things aren’t working. We’ve got a ton of broadband capacity in our cities that’s going begging. Companies that connect us to that broadband are going under.

So guess what our free-market conservative leaders in Washington are talking about doing? They’ve got a bill moving through the House that will subsidize Bell companies, buy more equipment from outfits like Cisco, and spend your taxpayer dollars building new broadband networks in rural areas. Oh, and since the new “investment” would be done for incumbent local exchange carriers, competitors won’t be allowed to use it.

The argument is that by putting broadband into small towns, tech companies will put jobs there. If you build it, they will come.

This isn’t a partisan swipe. Georgia has been run by Democrats since before what I like to call (to avoid arguments) “the recent unpleasantness.” These folks are in bed with the highway lobby, so they figure the best way to bring development to rural Georgia is to build big, wide, new highways — lots of ’em. The highways are very nice, and, generally, they’re also empty, while here in Atlanta we spend most of our time stuck in traffic.

You can’t control the market with subsidies. The Japanese are figuring that out. We claim to know it in our bones. But where there’s smoke, there’s usually a barbecue, and when the going gets tough, the tough get going. It’s time for our industry’s fat cats to chow down, and for the rest of us to pay for it.

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