Still paying for it

Don't buy it on credit

July 07, 2011

 Those of us who have been around since the beginning of the computer era will have no trouble remembering the days when we were sold a bill of goods with our first home computer.

It went something like this: If you buy now, your computer will be outdated in a matter of months because technology is developing so quickly, but not to worry because you can just upgrade it.

According to this theory, each new software upgrade, and each new hardware advance could simply be appended onto the machine we purchased, and we'd always have the latest and greatest.

It didn't quite turn out that way, as the problem of old computers and old computer screens clogging landfills has become something of a public policy problem.

Enter Harford County government and its $8 million plan to upgrade its broadband computer network to improve its communications backbone and improve service to the general public and business community.

These days, $8 million sounds like a small price to pay in a county whose budget is fast approaching 100 times that amount. Still, there does seem to be a level of foolishness attached to the proposal, that being a plan to finance the purchase through 20 to 25-year bonds. The move promises to triple the cost of the project over the life of the bonds and, because of the term, means the network that will be new shortly after the bonds are issued will probably be long out of commission by the time the bonds are paid off.

In the world of computers, after all, 20 to 25 years is eons. Keep in mind that 25 years ago, email was a curiosity, the Internet was still dominated by its parent, the Department of Defense, and the makings of the World Wide Web were little more than a patchwork of code devised by a scientist at an applied physics lab to link a series of otherwise incompatible early computers.

Harford County probably does need a computer network upgrade. After all, it is a growing county. But it needs to be financially responsible. No one would float a 20 year bond to pay for a new fleet of county vehicles with an expected lifespan of six to 10 years. Financing computers that way would be comparable to having bought, on credit, a game of Donkey Kong when it first came out and making a final payment on the game last week.

Financing things that will be worn out or gone long before they're paid for is not only bad policy, but also just plain goofy, whether you're the Harford County government or just a kid looking for a new computer game.

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