This country is vast. “Miles and miles of little more than telephone line”, I wrote last summer after half-cross country road trip.
The costs of providing and maintaining that infrastructure miles and miles between neighbors is baffling to me. Let along the fact we electrified the cornfields 70 years ago.
But, unlike energy – we can’t get broadband internet access from the wind and water around us. Something has to literally connect us to the rest of the world – and fast (in both senses of the word).
Internet access has an interesting potential to revive dying rural towns – for the exact same reason it’s helping India, China, Brazil, Russia, and Eastern Europe – people can work worldwide, get paid worldwide-ish wages, and maintain a lower cost of living.
This is why customer call centers are in the Dakotas.
50 years ago – electricity and telephone service meant survival, today – it’s high-speed internet access.
Compare this from the Wikipedia entry on the Rural Utilities Service:
“Many were critical of the decision, in particular private electricity utilities, who argued that the government had no right to compete with private enterprise (though many of those utilities refused to extend their lines to rural areas, claiming lack of potential profitability as the reason)”
And this from With a Dish, Broadband Goes Rural in the New York Times:
“Roughly 15 million households cannot get broadband from their phone or cable provider because the companies have been slow to expand their high-speed networks in areas where there are not enough customers to generate what they regard as an adequate profit.”
The mindset of the incumbents hasn’t changed in 70 years – we need a Rural Internet-ification Administration to bring new life to our rural areas.
Thanks to PFHyper for the pointer
With the recent purchase of Bell South, it’s like you’re least favorite band getting back together for a reunion tour. It leaves a bad taste in your mouth but at least it’s hard to ignore.
Of all the telecom services the new (same as the old) AT&T offers; mobile, long distance, local, DSL, etc. Only 1.5 of them matter; DSL and mobile. Mobile only matters until a wifi cloud approximates current mobile coverage. Leaving DSL – high speed internet services. Everything else can ride on top of that. (Yes, I’m seriously considering dropping our remaining landline phone for a Skype number.)
This means Net Neutrality is the telecom issue. More on this in Public Knowledge’s Good Fences Make Bad Broadband article.
I grabbed lunch with Leif Utne earlier this week. As you might expect, it was a pretty intense conversation on podcasting, technology, politics, and the overlap.
First order of business, I’m down with Minneapolis going with a private company to run citywide WiFi network for the two reasons cited in the Strib article:
- Startup Costs
The faster the city is covered in a wifi cloud, the better. There are issues with that position, and this is one of them. Right now, the city doesn’t have the infrastructure in place to launch a network like this tomorrow. I wish it did. Any number of private companies do. Probably even a few local ones could pull it off. Either way, Minneapolis, St. Paul, and all the suburbs on the Met council need citywide wifi. Now. None of them can support it in-house yet. I don’t know how going with a private company prevents continual study into public ownership. Any funds spent on getting to public ownership should be considered research. Plus, only my water bill goes to the city. My other utilities; gas, electric, internet, phone – all companies (private or otherwise). Is that best? Not sure it matters.
- Legal Issues
“Telephone and cable TV companies might sue the city on the grounds that a Minneapolis public network was using tax dollars to improperly compete with them.”
FUD, I know, but it’s a good point. High speed WiFi (> 2Mbps) competes with every other communications method; telephone, radio, television. Aside from being inevitable, this is a very good thing. Plus, this is an opportunity for telephone and cable TV companies to offer valuable, unique services rather than collecting rent. Oh yea, both the non-profit HourCar.org and the for-profit ZipCar.com are in town. Choices are good things.
Additionally, I think cable TV companies would be huge supporters of citywide wifi. It should get them off the hook for continual support of public access. (Citizen have their own “channels” on the internet).
All of this leads to the need for symmetrical (same upload speeds as download) service for everyday people. Why? Simple, the growth in media production isn’t from big media companies. It’s from you. The family photos, audio, and video you’re sharing with family and friends. Everyone a producer.
Imagine a telephone where conversations with your mom had a lag, but from a telemarketer was fine. Imagine a CD player that distorted the music you created, but played Top 40 artists just fine. Where is the line drawn on who gets quality service? When is famous, famous enough?
We live in this world today, and will until ISPs stop artificially bottlenecking transfer rates.
Doc Searles has been posting on Net Neutrality and symmetrical broadband for a while now. It’s taken me a little bit wrap my head around it. I wonder if the handicapping of businesses caused by asymmetrical service could be considered a violation of the Commerce clause.
Either way, this is the same issue I describe in TiVo’s Future is in Videoblogs post. Reminding me, TiVo needs to run BitTorrent and allow subscribers to upload video. Without that, yes, they are toast.