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Time for Apple to Take a Bite Out of the Broadband Problem

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Walk around New York City and you'll see Apple's white headphones sticking into many people's ears. Walk past a Starbucks and you'll see the glow of the Apple on many people's laptops. In the last 12 years, since the introduction of the iPod, Apple has become a part of our lives. For good reason: They make quality products and have marketing campaigns that are second-to-none. Aside from some tax issues; maybe some antitrust snafus and an ongoing war with Samsung, Apple has been a pretty model corporate actor -- even getting a mention and a seat of honor at President Obama's State of the Union speech last year.

Despite the stock being far off its highs, it is still one of the best performing companies over the last five years. With the success in sales, smart cost-savings strategies and strong management, Apple has built up a war chest of some $159 billion. A lot can be done with that. Some argue the company should raise their dividend; others want them to go on an acquisitions spree.

There is something very specific Apple can do with that money, that will help the entire country and their bottom line. It's time for Apple to take on the task of (re)building the American broadband infrastructure. Apple can anchor the National Broadband Plan. Google, in another attempt to push barriers (driverless cars, Google Glass, etc.) is installing Google Fiber in Austin, Kansas City and Provo with plans to expand to another eight cities in the coming years but that's just specific metropolitan areas. Not enough is being done for the overall infrastructure.

The necessary upgrades to create a nationwide fiber optic system are exorbitant -- north of $140 billion. Verizon has cited costs as a reason to not follow-through on their plan. Comcast is fighting a battle for Time Warner and may be entirely incapable of footing the bill -- but Apple, with their billions could act as the backer for everything. Even if they footed the entire bill, Apple would have enough left over to most of Tesla or T-Mobile.

America is falling behind in the global chase of higher broadband speeds. Enough studies show that. But you only need to log-on in your home or office to recognize that the potential power of the Internet is still far from your grasp. Netflix is stalled, songs take too long to download, you can't watch sports without the image pausing just as the game winning shot goes up. If there weren't so many other problems with the American infrastructure -- bridges and highways falling apart, widespread power outages during storms, airports that are laughably pathetic compared to the rest of the first world -- we would all be up in arms that none of the companies that can do anything to change the situation are doing enough.

Broadband use also means jobs. It's just that simple. A Brookings Institution study showed a positive correlation between broadband use and employment in a number of industries. Among U.S. states, every one percent increase in broadband penetration projected an annual employment increase of 0.2 to 0.3 percent.

A McKinsey Global Institute study "attributed 3.4 percent of GDP in major developed and emerging economies to the Internet and found that small and medium businesses heavily using Internet technologies grew and exported twice as much as competitors, while also enjoying a 10 percent productivity advantage." According to the Council on Foreign Relations, analysts also estimated that the Internet created 2.6 jobs for every job it destroyed, and determined that 21 percent of GDP growth over the past five years in mature economies was due to the Internet, with three-quarters of this coming from traditional industries.

Australia and France use government funds for their national broadband investment programs directly to build new broadband infrastructure. Here in the U.S., we're all about competition and getting government off our backs. This is a perfect opportunity for those politicians (see: Paul, Rand and Cruz, Ted) who push this line of thought to urge corporate American to take the lead on this necessary development. Apple can not only boost their CSR (corporate social responsibility) image but likely make money by taking on the role of a utility provider. Plus, faster download speeds mean more usage of their own products and even more sales through iTunes.

There are many things to do with $159 billion, this is just one idea. An idea that helps the company and country.

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