For the Week of February 13, 2006
A few years ago some wags talked about people having a "right" to Internet service, and they got laughed at.
Let's try it another way.
America's economic future requires every citizen have access to Internet resources, and full freedom to use them.
Everyone needs Internet access, and literacy, to be part of the modern world.
FAST Internet access.
In a recent essay Visicalc co-founder Bob Frankston compares the Internet to roads. In a recent piece at Mooreslore, I offered something similar. What if the railroads had a veto over road development, I asked, even after the car became popular?
But this dramatically underestimates what we're talking about.
The Internet is becoming a universal database, a universal discussion, almost a hive mind for humanity in the 21st century. If you don't have access you can't contribute. And you can't benefit, either.
This is the Century of the Mind. We've already seen business gravitate to those cities with the best connectivity, with the best chances for minds to connect. That's what Silicon Valley is about. That's what Boston is about, what New York is about, what Atlanta and Austin and Washington are about. Connections.
But with the Internet it's not just cities which are judged on their connectivity. It's nations.
And we're falling behind. Already, just in the last few years, we've fallen to 19th in broadband penetration. We're about to be passed by Slovenia, for God's sakes! Slovenia! Slovenia was, in the 1990s, part of Yugoslavia, a country which destroyed itself in civil war. Now Slovenia is passing us in the access its citizens have to the Essential Resource of our Time.
Why is this? Simple.
We've allowed Internet service to be monopolized by two sets of companies - Bell companies and cable operators - who are paying for obsolete infrastructure, who are forcing us to pay for that infrastructure before they deliver more, and who think only in terms of billing for specific services, not selling bits.
The Internet is just bits. Video bits, sound bits, e-mail bits, Web bits, text bits. The meaning of the bits are defined at the edge, on the computers that exchange them. All producers are consumers, all consumers can be producers. But the gatekeepers won't accept that. They see the Internet as services - TV, phone, e-mail - billable events which they define and they control.
And so, with Internet connectivity held hostage to these so-called "service providers," your ability to be part of the future atrophies, disappears, dot by dot, bit by bit. So does America's competitiveness.
Frankston calls the process through which this has happened the Regulatorium. He's talking about a network of political connections, state and federal agencies, think tanks and Bell-sponsored "consumer groups" who push the Bell-Cable duopoly more effectively than Jack Abramoff's K Street Project dreamed of.
Here, he says, is what we need instead. Some simple statements:
- Connectivity is fundamental. The Internet is not a service. The Regulatorium doesn't have the language for this. Giving it the language is the leverage point.
- Speed is useless if you can't communicate. It's easy to speed up the network - what we need is pervasive connectivity. This means that wireless connectivity - be it Wi-Fi or other protocols is our basic right.
- Rather than giving carriers the ability to define our services, connectivity must be infrastructure like roads and power lines and "just be there". We can then create services and solutions.
This is light years from the way the world works today. But we have to get there.
I've written a lot about these issues here, tangentially. Moore's Law drives the world, not just as it relates to chips but as it relates to telecomm technology too. Moore's Law of Fiber shows that optical fiber capacity can grow exponentially, just by changing out hardware. Moore's Law of Radios shows we can have the same capacity increases using the air that we have with fiber.
All the laws and rules we have in place for telecommunications are based on the idea of scarcity. Capital to build networks is scarce, so only a few big companies can play. The frequency spectrum is a scarce good government must distribute.
I don't know of a better way to say this, so I'll just say it.
- If you start with the idea of connectivity, of bits and not "services" like phones or video, there's already plenty. The copper in your home can give you plenty of bits, if the market is freed to deliver them.
- Frequency is not scarce, it's abundant. We can cellularize, we can sectorize, we can limit power, we can use directional antennas. It's not a set of railroad tracks - it's an ocean.
Other countries are understanding this, and as a result they are passing us, for a tiny fraction of what the Bells and cable companies paid. It's Moore's Law in action. The Bells and cable companies built mainframes. This is an age of PCs. The only solution is to write off the mainframes, start from scratch. Kill the Bells and bring on the competition.
Unfortunately, getting from here to there is a political struggle. It's not a left-right struggle, but it is political. Because the roadblocks are all in the political system - the laws, the regulations, the agencies, the pay-offs, the phony think tanks and "consumer" groups - it's all political.
We need nothing less than a political revolution to get right with Moore's Law. Which means you need to get mad. You need to get educated. You need to get active.
If you don't your children will inherit Mexico. They will become the refugees, they will be the divided families. The men off looking for any work they can find, at any price. The women scared, helpless, alone, beset by violence. The children uneducated, unwashed, wishing for a better life in a better place.
El Norte is becoming El Sud. We're becoming an economic backwater. The only way out is to connect the bits.
I've got a new job. I'm now editor of Atlanta voic.us, a Web start-up aimed at building a community Web platform with a real business model. I'm also all alone in writing the Open Source Blog for ZDNet. (When this started there were three of us.)
My last non-fiction book, "The Blankenhorn Effect" won the Computer/Internet category in the 2003 Independent Publisher (IPPY) awards. Write me for a PDF copy of my latest novel, "Baptists are for Dunking."
On my Mooreslore blog I've written a new novel, "The Chinese Century." It's a story told in real-time, with real characters, but entirely fictional, dealing with the consequences of the falling dollar. I'm beginning a sequal, "American Diaspora," exploring the themes of the first book but with more fictional characters. It's a true alternate history, but set in the present day.
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Clued-in is Bruce Kushnick and his book $200 Billion Broadband Scandal. Get your copy today.
Clueless is the destructive fight against Moore's Law by the Bell companies. They're destroying themselves and their country at the same time.
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