I’m sympathetic to this idea because it’s an infrastructure-building proposal and I think we need more infrastructure spending in this country. On the other hand, though, it seems to me that in practice it would wind up being one more in a long series of wealth transfers directed at rural America. This whole interlocking series of policies aimed at trying to shore up the non-viable rural economy is a pretty significant waste of money and the farm protectionism that is its linchpin has morally repugnant results.
While I agree with Matt on the issue of farm subsidies–I’m again’ ’em–the percentage of the population, even in the rural South, engaged in agriculture continues to dwindle. The problem with providing infrastructure in rural areas isn’t that they’re engaged in agriculture or, indeed, necessarily impoverished but rather low population density.
On the main, I’m not sure I understand why the private sector can’t provide broadband on a profit incentive. Truly rural places like Wyoming and the Dakotas would require subsidization to get broadband on par with urban centers, since the concentration of users is so scattered. Or, they could just accept lack of all the conveniences of modernity as one of the trade-offs of living in the hinterlands. And satellite broadband is available in even the most remote locations. Nearly two years ago, I moved from Troy, Alabama (population 5000 or so) to the Dulles high tech corridor–less than five miles from both then-Worldcom and AOL and the second fastest growing county in the country. Yet, I had better broadband access–two competing cable companies–than I’ve found here.
I just don’t fundamentally see a problem with letting rural areas continue to depopulate while America’s metro areas grow. With the exception of New York, every city in the United States is pretty low-density outside of a relatively tiny downtown business districy (look at Washington’s endless tracts of three story row houses in neighborhoods both fancy and decrepit), a situation that could be easily changed by altering some tax and zoning rules in a way that could radically lower urban (and, consequently, inner-suburban) housing prices even while permitting a much larger concentration of people in the regions of this country that have viable economic bases.
I haven’t studied the demographics very closely but was under the impression that the opposite phenomenon had been the trend for 40 years or so, namely the mass exodus of the big population centers, especially the Rust Belt, for the more rural areas of the Sun Belt, as evidenced by shifts in Congressional Districts and the Electoral College after the last several decennial censuses.
I’m not sure what government policies we’d enact to solve the housing crunch in the big cities. Washington, Boston, and San Diego aren’t getting any bigger. More people are moving in. In D.C., a townhouse smaller than the crappy apartment I rented for $200 a month in grad school–furnished!–goes for well over a million dollars. Where I live–35 miles from downtown Washington–houses are selling the day they go on the market for insane prices. The townhouse I bought five months ago has already appreciated $35,000 in value. I suppose we could subsidize the construction of high-rise apartments, but one suspects the historical preservation crowd would be up in arms over that. And, of course, a substantial number of people are willing to endure very long commutes in order to have a bigger house in a safer neighborhood to raise their children.