How to get fast Internet service —Susan Crawford

Susan Crawford has a plan for getting us fast Internet access for jobs, community, education, and health care.

Susan Crawford wrote for Wired 2 October 2012, We Can’t All Be in Google’s Kansas: A Plan for Winning the Bandwidth Race, about how the incumbent telephone and cable companies that provide our Internet access aren’t going to help:

They have no incentive to do so. Because they never enter one another’s territories, they don’t face the competition that might spur such expansion.

Instead, incumbent internet access providers such as Comcast and Time Warner (for wired access) and AT&T and Verizon (for complementary wireless access) are in “harvesting” mode. They’re raising average revenue per user through special pricing for planned “specialized services” and usage-based billing, which allows the incumbents to constrain demand. The ecosystem these companies have built is never under stress, because consumers do their best to avoid heavy charges for using more data than they’re supposed to. Where users have no expectation of abundance, there’s no need to build fiber on the wired side of the business or build small cells fed by fiber on the wireless side.

If the current internet access providers that dominate the American telecommunications landscape could get away with it, they’d sell nothing but specialized services and turn internet access into a dirt road.

So what is her plan?

  1. Provide loan guarantees for building basic competitive fiber infrastructure;
  2. Preempt state laws that make it difficult (or impossible) for municipalities to commission their own fiber networks;
  3. Require wholesale providers to build open, non-discriminatory networks as a condition of getting access to rights-of-way; and
  4. Require separation between content and transport providers to avoid the risk of harvesting.

OK, that sounds like a national-scale plan that requires national laws. Or does it?

She’s recommending fiber buildout like Google is doing. That’s one path. But there is another that may be available to us right now. Consider Softbank CEO Masayoshi Son buying Sprint. He’s not doing it for landline fiber. He’s doing it for radio bandwidth.

As we know, 4G LTE is much faster than DSL here in Lowndes County, but it costs too much, and the U.S. incumbents will keep playing their bait-and-switch games.

AT&T DSL: 2.66Mbps down 0.31Mbps up
VZ 4G: 10.88Mbps down 7.14Mbps up
Verizon 4G

Georgia does not have state laws that prevent municipal Internet services. Any or all of the local city governments, the Lowndes County Commission, or the Industrial Authority can float bonds. And the example of Houston County indicates that local voters might be willing to approve a SPLOST that included fast Internet access for everybody. Regarding Prof. Crawford’s 3 and 4, the local governments could perhaps:

  • attempt to make a deal with Verizon or AT&T or Sprint or all of them for lower prices (and higher caps) in exchange for many more customers,
  • or put up their own 4G LTE network on their own water towers,
  • or maybe a hybrid of requiring the incumbents to provide access to their cell towers for municipal 4G LTE provision.

With any of those solutions the local governments could just provide transport, and that would enable a plethora of local content and services. Plus this approach could rapidly spread to the entire metropolitan area and beyond, without any need to lay more fiber.

The main ingredients it really takes: political will, and inclusion of the entire community in the process. The Internet is the roads of the future. Who among our elected leaders, or other organizations such as the Chamber, is willing to step up and start an open process to get us fast Internet access?