Slower and more expensive than the rest of the world: U.S. Internet access doesn’t have to be that way. Bob knows about our Internet issues here and is interested in helping.
Chunka Mul wrote for Forbes 26 April 2013, The Lunacy of Our Internet Access, and How Google Fiber Could Provide Needed Shock Therapy,
Imagine you are the world’s largest operator of shopping malls, and shoppers can only get to your malls via the equivalent of dirt paths and country roads. What’s more, those meager routes are all controlled by an oligopoly of private, toll-road operators that focus on their profitability, not on getting consumers to the stores in your malls.
The result would be a mess. The roads would be slow yet expensive. Consumers would limit shopping trips. The stores in your malls would have a hard time generating business, so your malls would languish.
Yet the entire online economy runs on an analogous network. The network could easily be lightning fast, pervasive and cheap (or even free). Instead,
a small group of telecom providers tightly controls relatively dismal access, offering coverage and speeds that are a fraction of what is possible while charging relatively high prices.
As software pioneer Bob Frankston pointed out to me recently, this network is lunacy from a societal standpoint. There may be a solution—and, as the headline suggests, Google could play a major role.
We learned a long time ago that open roads and common infrastructure are vital to community, commerce and innovation. In the U.S. alone, we’ve invested many hundreds of billions on building that infrastructure and make it mostly free at the time of use. According to nationalatlas.gov, there are 3.9 million miles of public roads in the U.S., which annually carry more than 4.7 trillion passenger miles of travel and 3.3 trillion ton miles of domestic freight. Those roads are used by about 270 million people, 6.7 million business establishments and 88,000 units of government. Without good, free roads, just about every person and every economic activity would suffer.
Frankston, the co-inventor of the first electronic spreadsheet, has been arguing in a long series of articles and presentations, that the telecommunications network could be the equivalent of the public roads but, instead, so massively constrains our basic communications capabilities that it puts a drag on community, commerce and overall innovation.
The local powers that be have recently suddenly discovered infrastructure is more than roads and bridges: it’s also fast, affordable Internet access. As tiny Vermont is demonstrating we can have fast Internet access here if we want it. That SPLOST election coming up would be a fine time to allocate some Internet access funding. Houston County’s SPLOST included $2.525 million for a wide area network and it passed by a landslide last spring.
What would this mean for South Georgia Medical Center and rural access to health care in south Georgia?
What’s more, Frankston argues, taking away the necessity to monitor usage and to bill per transaction across redundant networks would have game-changing consequences. The change would simplify the network by eliminating a very complex (and expensive) administrative layer. It would eliminate the cost of building out, maintaining and upgrading multiple infrastructures. It would unlock a tremendous amount of capacity, by encouraging the use of copper and fiber that currently goes unused or underused because it cannot be easily or profitably billed for.
Even more significant, he says, ambient connectivity would unleash innovation. For instance, eliminating the need to negotiate how devices communicate in the “Internet of Things” would simplify how smart devices like pacemakers, thermostats and other tiny or embedded sensors, monitors and cameras can communicate with smart apps. Innovators would have much greater opportunities for improving our lives….
Imagine no digital divides separating the have-nots from important applications in healthcare and education, including telemedicine and MOOCs.
We don’t depend on private toll roads to get employees to businesses around here, and we brag about I-75 and I-35, all built and maintained with tax dollars. It’s time to get serious about the infrastructure of the 21st century: the Internet. This doesn’t mean Internet access has to be completely built or maintained by the local governments. Bob’s freemium model, for example, is mostly about franchising Internet connectivity through meshes among cooperating businesses. But one way to jump-start fast affordable access, especially in a rural area like ours, would be for local governments and educational institutions to take a role in opening up Internet access and making it affordable, and that may or may not include direct Internet provision by some of them.
Frankston argues that it is time to construct the digital equivalent of an open road system, establishing ambient connectivity. Restricting connectivity, he says, makes no more sense than restricting sunlight.
For business, education, health care, agrotourism, and endless other opportunities, the Internet is the roads and bridges of the 21st century. Bob includes a few concrete ideas that Google could implement. Has anyone around here talked to Google about bringing Google Fiber here? Many of Bob’s ideas don’t even require Google. They just require political will. What do we want to do?