14 Jan Stimulus package 2009: 21st Century infrastructure defined
What does the word infrastructure mean to you? Most would say it’s the roads and bridges that we drive on. Some would also include the railroads, but it is much more encompassing than that.
We should look beyond the layers that create and maintain industrial-age jobs to also include those that demand more complex skills which translate into more rewarding careers.
This is not the 1930s and handing everyone a shovel and hammer does not mean we are putting a lot of people back to work. We are also not utilizing the many talented people we have on the sidelines due to the labor dumping of many skilled technology people into the workforce.
There are too many politicians that are clinging onto the manual labor solutions of the past. Those solutions do not address the challenges of today, let alone the challenges of the future.
Many citizens who are underemployed are not “under-skilled.” If anything, they have been told they are over-skilled for jobs they applied for and now make a fraction of what their earning potentials really are.
Before any huge stimulus package of money is approved, Congress, state legislations, and all organizations wanting some “free cash” should be aware that the infrastructure cash pie has to be divided into at least seven major slices.
Why seven? Who are the rest of those organizations wanting money for the infrastructure? (See Chart 1.)
Each infrastructure layer deserves a substantial sum according to those within those layers. What has to be done first is to understand that ALL the money should not go to roads and railroads.
What layer will benefit the most by a cash infusion? What layer will be hampered by a swarm of lobbyists trying to lock in a lot of money for their organization, but not promising much in return?
CHART 1: FRAMEWORK OF INFRASTRUCTURE
|7||BROADBAND CONNECTIVITY NETWORK|
|5||POWER (GRIDS, NUCLEAR POWER)|
|4||TELEPHONE NETWORK (VOICE ONLY)|
|1||PORTS/ DOCKS/ WATER|
Source: JAMES CARLINI, Copyright © 2009 All Rights Reserved
These are all issues that those in Washington better spend some detailed time on. Just handing out billions of dollars will make Congress feel like they are helping, but we don’t need “make work” jobs that come from an industrial-age mindset.
Where would you put the money?
I would put the money where it would do the most good, not only for the local people but also for strengthening the national economy. Some want to put a lot into high-speed rail but is that going to have a real payback compared to spending money in some of the other layers?
All the “green people” advocating that we should spend billions on mass transit should take a strong look at that area to see if we are getting the benefit to the environment that they think we are getting. Those who are all for “green” solutions want more mass transit but in looking at some mass transit, it is nothing more than mass waste.
How many suburban buses do you see riding throughout the day with maybe one or two riders besides the bus driver? How many trains and buses stop at stops where there is never anyone there to pick up, yet it is a very common stop for every vehicle on the line? At one time twenty years ago it was a busy stop, but now whatever used to be there is long gone. That is not mass transit; that is mass waste.
CHART 2: FRAMEWORK OF INFRASTRUCTURE: How to spend the dollars?
|7||BROADBAND CONNECTIVITY NETWORK||20%|
|5||POWER (GRIDS, NUCLEAR POWER)||20%|
|4||TELEPHONE NETWORK (VOICE ONLY)||0%|
|1||PORTS/ DOCKS/ WATER||15%|
Source: JAMES CARLINI, Copyright © 2009 All Rights Reserved
This is how I would spend each dollar in the Stimulus (See Chart 2). Twenty percent would go to each top layer and nothing to the telephone network for two reasons. One, the incumbent phone companies were given many tax incentives to encourage them to build a better network and they failed. Where did all that money go?
In the same time, they also spent tens of millions of dollars on lobbyists and other obstacles to stifle innovation and competition in that layer. Because of that, we have fallen further and further behind in the global market when it comes to network speed.
Second, all communications are rolling up into the integrated layer of broadband connectivity. So any monies that would be given for network infrastructure must have the following restriction put on it: It should be used for broadband connectivity, which includes the transport of voice, data and video. And broadband means one gigabit or above, not 100Mbps or less.
Railroads get 10 percent because they already get a good subsidy in the form of paying a lot less taxes on their fuel. Roads and bridges get 15 percent because state governments should have funds for this through all of their motor fuel taxes that they collect every year. Where is all that money go to in Illinois?
As far as the lowest layer, 15 percent to ports, docks, and water infrastructure would be a huge injection to what they get and I am sure they would put all of it to good use. In Illinois alone, there are several projects focused on expanding the locks on certain rivers in order to expedite barge traffic along the river. The locks in use are old and if they update them, shipping can move faster along the water and barges that are tied together can stay together as they go through the locks whereas now, they have to be untied to maneuver into the locks and then re-tied to move further down the river.
When you compare Illinois to other states that are on either coast, we have more shoreline than most of them when you take into account that the western border is all shoreline against the Mississippi and part of the eastern border is on Lake Michigan and other rivers (Wabash, Ohio).
Target speed: One gigabit
Any speed objectives should be one gigabit or more and any study done by any organization that focuses on a speed less than one gigabit should be thrown out as its authors have no clue as to where the market is and where it is going.
Some great analysis has to be done before earmarking billions of dollars to what used to be pet projects like the “bridge to nowhere.” The “bus to nowhere” is just as wasteful and usually not as scrutinized.
CARLINI-ISM: Infrastructure has become a complex, multi-layer foundation for economic development.
Previous article by James Carlini
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This article previously appeared in MidwestBusiness.com, and was reprinted with its permission.
The opinions expressed herein or statements made in the above column are solely those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of Wisconsin Technology Network, LLC.