Can Widespread Broadband Save Local Governments Money, and the Environment to Boot?

It is an interesting question. And many of you are wondering what pipe I’ve partaken of in asking it. How can broadband save the environment and money? I ran across an older Real Estate related article on the demand for broadband broken up by categories of use. And I mean an old one, 2002 I believe it was. In it there was an assertion that 17% of broadband demand was for telework – working from home. See, there are the light bulbs.

Let us just run a few quick, back of the envelope calculations. Assume that 15 of that 17% could/would work from home at least 75% of the time. That would mean that using March of 2005’s daily gasoline usage in the US (yes I know about Diesel, but they are fewer. Yes I also know about E85 – much more so than many reading this!) of about 320,500,000 gal/day we could use 24,037,500 less gallons, about 7.5% (assuming I did that right 😉 ). Figuring 20 gallons of oil is roughly a barrel (bbl) of oil, that would be a direct reduction of about 1.2 Million bbl/day (again all general BOTE). We import about 10Mbbl/day. Not too shabby.

To put that into perspective, that is roughly half of our Persian Gulf imports.[1]

And this could be done without a single change to fuel economy standards, vehicles, or increased gasoline taxes. But the effects don’t end there. If this 7.5% reduction were to occur, we would save more than that 7.5% usage figure I just used.

Here is where it saves local governments money. I’ll try to run through this and we can revisit it later. Fewer cars on the road leads to less traffic congestion. Less traffic congestion means lower “demand” for more and larger roadways. It also means less stop and go traffic. Less stop and go traffic means less time spent idling (wasting fuel), less time starting from a dead stop (relatively wasting fuel compared to a smooth flow), and less time on the road running an engine.

All of these result in better fuel efficiency in today’s vehicles. Even yesterday’s vehicle benefit from this – and do so without costly retrofitting. How much is difficult to say. So I’ll draw from some anecdotal evidence from my personal experiences. Yes, I’ve compared the economy I get in light traffic to that in heavy traffic. I’ve done this in the Vette and the Suburban. The Vette shows a rough average of about 10-15%. That is not small potatoes here folks. The Suburban shows a difference of roughly the same, leading toward 20%.[2]

So let us figure an additional overall drop of about say 5%, for a total of a 12.5% drop in gasoline usage. That would bring us to about 1.8M Bbl/day less, or about three quarters of our Persian Gulf imports. Is it enough to end any “crisis” mode? Absolutely not. But is it enough to make significant difference? Absolutely.

If the assertions about US “Defense Spending” being heavily influenced by and a form of subsidy to the oil industry are true, then there would be the opportunity for a lower defense budget. But that doesn’t really help local governments out, does it? Still, I would not object to lowering operations abroad and subsequently lowering the military budget.

Local governments are assisted by widespread broadband by the fewer cars on the road == less traffic congestion aspect. With fewer cars on the road during peak hours the existing infrastructure would fare much better. This means reduced impact and reduced “need” for widening the roads, “traffic” cameras, etc.. Not an end to end solution by any means. But then again you don’t see me pitching this to get mass funding either – an act so typical of the proclaimed ‘solutions’ to these matters.

But are there enough jobs of the kind that people could “work from home” a few days or more per week for this to “work”? I believe there is more than plenty to do it. You might be surprised at the number of jobs that could be done from home if so desired/allowed.

Tech support from home? Been there, done that. Heck, if we can ship it to other countries, why not ship it into the home instead? For well over a decade we’ve had the phone technology to do this. Indeed from what I’ve heard/learned much of the infamous 1-900 phone system operators worked this way. Broadband could take this and extend it. Picture the support person side of it being done over Voice Over IP (VOIP) such as Skype, Vonage, etc.. You the customer place the call, the call is routed from your phone to the support company’s network and shipped over broadband to the support person’s VOIP phone.

By combining this with VPN technology (Virtual Private Network: it allows your laptop at home to be “on” the company network), tech support or even non-technical customer service support could be distributed. The technology for this has been around for quite a while. This application of it could reduce the size, scope, and city service infrastructure requirements for call centers.

Perhaps instead of an 8,000 square foot facility, a Dell or HP could instead use a 2,000 square foot facility and have their support representatives work from home say 60% of the time. Then by good scheduling they would have less people on site at any given time (training, meetings, supervision of critical accounts, etc.), thus “fitting” into the smaller facility.

With this scenario, HP (for example) would find it easier to get approval from the city/county. The city (as in residents as well as government officials) would have much fewer concerns about the environmental and infrastructure impact of the facility. HP would enjoy lower costs that they could pass on in benefits or higher wages and salaries for the support reps (HAH!).

Some other effects of this scenario is that you have less people wanting to be close to that facility. This could lower density. From what I recall, it is not population totals that are a significant factor in crime rates, but population density. Naturally, reduction in crime rates (or less of an increase) is not only good for the area, but can save the local government money in ways I don’t need to describe here. 😉

This reduced traffic goes much further than just teleworkers. Given the apparent assumption by many online shopping sites that we all have broadband, if we actually did we should see more online shopping. More online shopping reduces local traffic. Sure, we’ve got the delivery trucks to contend with. However, while FedEx trucks would be seen more often on the road, there would still be a significant reduction in the number of vehicles on the road. One FedEx truck making a delivery to 25 houses is certainly less of a traffic congestion contributor than 25 cars all out shopping. Further, for many there is no “one-stop shopping” sites in the world of brick and mortar stores. So that single FedEx truck goes directly where he needs to deliver packages and that’s it. So Mom and Dad aren’t out hitting five or six stores looking for Junior’s presents.

Fewer cars on the roads means less congestion means less expansion pressure, means less road surface to maintain means less infrastructure expenditures. Fewer cars on the road during “rush hours” means less congestion means better fuel economy means less fuel consumed. Less gasoline consumed means less oil used/imported. Less gasoline consumed means less pollutants in the air. Whether Global Warming is man-made or man-influenced or not, less known-hazardous particulates in the air is A Good Thing[tm].

Less pollutants in the air means better air quality for the local residents and visitors. It also means less enforcement costs for temporary measures. For example when The Inversion hits Boise, burn bans go into effect. Hypothetically speaking, if telecommuting and it’s myriad of synergistic effects could reduce vehicle emissions onto the Boise air and minimize/eliminate the health risk of The Inversion, the burn ban could be eliminated. Along with this would go away the enforcement costs of it. Not to mention the intense unpopularity of it among wood stove owners.

So why is it so few people have considered broadband as a contributor to lower civilization and environmental costs? Most of the effects are not direct, obvious, and large on their own. Too many people, particularly those in politics and those seeking big fat research grants, are only looking to the “big Hail Mary” play. They seem to forget that by moving at least 10 yards total every three downs, you will reach the end zone. People who want to control your life (so-called “environmentalists”. We refer to them around here as Environazis), or preach conservationism (yes, preach is the right word) would rather you drive a car of their choice, would rather you give something up to achieve ‘conservation”. They, too, forget that incremental but synergistic drops in usage/demand work. As a result they are blind to such changes.

For an example, I’ll stray a bit off my topic here for a moment to mention another way to cut fuel consumption in this country. Big Rigs. By raising the Gross Vehicle Weight Rating, trucks can carry more per load. More cargo per load means fewer trips are needed. Fewer trips represent tremendous fuel savings. Michigan did this. They went to a GVWR of 164,500 pounds. For one of their larger (private) trucking fleets, they increased their load by a factor of 2.5 and lowering their fuel costs by the equivalent of going from 5MPG to 12.5MPG[3]. For those concerned about safety and road damage, adding an axle (or two) solves the “damage” problem as it is pressure not weight that causes it. More axle(s) means more brakes means more stopping power. There are more savings to be had from such a change but this isn’t the post for that. Let me know if you’d like to know more about it.

But where are the so-called environmentalists proclaiming that to save the world we have to immediately do this across the board? Why is it that an effective 40% reduction in the trucking industry’s fuel use does not make them salivate at the idea? Not to mention the 40+% reduction on costs to the transportation industry (and fuel is one of their two largest costs). Why indeed.

How would traffic congestion be affected in your area? Just to get a (very) rough idea the next time you are out in traffic, count off ten cars and imagine two of them no longer on the road. Don’t imagine too hard, they are still there after all! How much better would your commute be? How much better would it be if there were less tractor trailers on the road?

Even better: the next time you are walking to your car to go to work imagine not needing to.


1: http://tonto.eia.doe.gov/dnav/pet/pet_move_impcus_a2_nus_ep00_im0_mbbl_m.htm
2: How does a Suburban owner get off talking about fuel economy? Simple. It’s E85 powered. If I get 10MPG on E85, I am getting 67MPG of Gasoline (MPGg). Who’s burning more oil now?
3: Winning the Oil Endgame published by Rocky Mountain Institute.

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One response to “Can Widespread Broadband Save Local Governments Money, and the Environment to Boot?

  1. Pingback: Mental Radiation » Blog Archive » Another Problem with “Global Warming”

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