Tuesday, 12 March 2013 12:53
Out of the darkness and despair that is Washington, D.C., a faith-restoring proposal has been made that shows we may still have the ability, brains and vision to build a real future. It seemed to come out of nowhere. It stunned the large corporations that increasingly narrow the window of ideas to which Americans are exposed, which explains why this is the first many readers have heard about it.
The Federal Communications Commission has proposed the creation of a national “super Wi-Fi” network that can give Americans universal access to one-gigabit-per-second download speeds, 100 times faster than most of us get now. Kaboom.
This is transformative, problem-solving technology.
Ask someone from the twin Kansas Cities, in Missouri and Kansas. Working together in 2011, they won Google’s national contest to be the experimental market for its one-gigabit fiber-optic home service. Startup companies are flocking there. Five months after the first connections, they already have a little neighborhood called “Silicon Prairie.”
There were more than 1,100 entries in that contest. Not a single Long Island government participated.
Kansas City is moving. Long Island is watching. If you had an idea that required the movement of massive amounts of data, which is the future, which place would you pick as a location?
Every time Long Islanders temporarily lose channels due to some corporate fee dispute, they are collateral damage in a massive death struggle being played out between “telecoms” and “cables” and companies that provide content and programming. How shows and information will be controlled and distributed, and who gets a piece of what, is still shaking out. This is mostly kept below our radars. It’s in nobody’s interests for Americans to know how little they are getting for their money compared to others.
But the death struggle gets set aside at those times when interests converge.
When the city government of Lafayette, Louisiana, responded to requests by citizens and offered fast fiber-to-the-home Internet, the cable television company and the telephone company joined forces to stop it. The corporations sued the city and forced a public referendum (public Internet won with 62 percent). Ultimately, the Louisiana Supreme Court ruled with the city. From 2007 to mid-2011, Lafayette residents saved an estimated $5.7 million on telecommunications services (Lafayette’s population is one-eleventh that of Nassau County). When Chattanooga, Tennessee, responding to numerous requests, wanted to offer its municipal fiber-to-the-home service outside of its city limits, massive lobbying by the cable industry killed state legislation authorizing it.
At least 18 states now have laws that make it difficult or impossible for cities to provide high-speed Internet networks to residents.
Yet across America, more than 100 municipalities, mostly little villages and cities, do offer these services, at reasonable rates. Typically, it takes two to three years for governments to make up the initial $1,000 to $2,000 cost of wiring an individual house or business. It’s an amazing magnet. Businesses based in Knoxville have opened offices in Chattanooga, a hundred miles away.
South Korea, Australia, Japan, the United Kingdom, the Netherlands and other countries are officially and rapidly moving toward universal high-speed fiber. Current goals set out by the FCC and the White House suggest universal minimum download speeds at a measly four-megabits per second by 2020. Our big long-term goal is outdated already. Twenty-nine percent of American households are not wired for Internet at all, and 20 percent don’t even have access at work or a nearby library.
Bad government policies have left most Americans with few or no choices. Cable companies dominate the broadband market and don’t see universal access and cutting-edge speed as part of their plans. Americans themselves can take the long view. We can take control of our future.
Michael Miller is a freelance writer, designer and strategic consultant who has worked in state and local government. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org