Fine particles, the workplace and broadband internet

(Dieser Artikel auf Deutsch)

The European Union has already warned Germany quite a number of times for crossing air pollution limits in pretty much all large cities, just today Brussels sent a “final warning” to Germany, France, Spain, Italy and Britain. Infringement proceedings against twelve other EU member states are already ongoing. The german city of Stuttgart has been on “fine-particle alert” for 72 days in 2015, its public transportation operators have therefore added a “fine-particle alert ticket” (adults travel for half the price when the alert is in effect) to their roster.

According to a 2014 study (publication in german only, sorry) published by the German “Foundation For Questions Regarding The future”, 53 percent of all employees drive their own car to work, 16 percent use public transportation (which often means using a bus), and an additional four percent share a ride in somebody else’s car. It can probably be assumed that at least 60 percent of all employees cover their way to work using a combusion engine. The average employee travels to the workplace for 26 minutes, a quarter of those polled need more than 40 minutes. But the way back home has to be covered as well, so the average employee spends about an hour commuting. Electromobility and public transportation can maybe solve the pollution problem to some degree, but still Germany’s workers loose about 40 Million hours of valuable lifetime per day which they’re not being compensated for.

For a couple of years now people have been crying for state funding when telecommunication businesses can’t deliver fast Internet connections fast enough. Some say the government should take over the telecommunications infrastructure and guarantee a minimum data rate (often beyond 50 MBit/s, or even Gigabit) because a fast Internet connection is supposedly an utility like electrical power or water. But once the basic need for information and access to services are covered, a fast Internet connection most often just becomes a way to consume online streams, online shopping and games. It’s your private pleasure, the government doesn’t pay for your ride to the cinema, so why should it pay for a Gigabit connection so you can watch multiple 4K streams? I’m against the government spending my tax money on “infrastructure for consumption”.

The problems of air pollution caused by traffic and the daily loss of precious lifetime could probably be approached much easier if a larger number of people could just telecommute using fast Internet connections. Speaking from my own experience most employers tend to not allow or even openly oppose telecommuting, but I think the ways we as a society would profit from it are more valuable in the end. So I propose a trade: you take my tax money and lay fiber Internet connections to every home, so we have the necessary infrastructure, but on the other hand time spent commuting now fully accounts to everybody’s required working time. If the average employee needs one hour to get to work and back, he or she only has to actually work seven hours. If you telecommute, you have to work the full eight hours.

I’m quite sure many businesses would suddenly see all the benefits of telecommuting.