Step Number One: Internet Access

In the spirit of posting highlights from this week’s Freedom to Connect conference, I’d like to next point to the talk given by former FCC chairman Michael Copps, entitled “Step Number One to Getting our Democracy Right”.  Here’s the video:

The full text is here, and it’s probably a quicker read than a watch.

Here’s the part that really rang home for me (emphasis mine):

broadband is indeed the front-and-center infrastructure of the Twenty-first century. It is dynamic and opportunity-creating to an extent greater than any of the nation’s numerous earlier infrastructure challenges. It is part of the resolution of almost every big problem confronting us: creating jobs, making America more competitive in the global market-place, providing better health care, decreasing our energy dependence, stopping environmental degradation, educating ourselves and our children and grandchildren, and opening the doors of equal opportunity to all.

But let’s remember that earlier generations had to respond to infrastructure challenges, too. Turnpikes, roads, bridges, harbors, canals, railways, highways, and electricity. Not to mention plain old telephone service, too—these were all infrastructure build-outs. Each one of them was a huge challenge in its own time. And each one of them helped jump-start the economy; each one created thousands of jobs; each one contributed to making our people more productive and our country more competitive.

This was a major theme of Freedom to Connect and I totally buy it — fast, open, equal access to the internet is a foundation for everything else.  For education, and for nearly every aspect of our economy (now and certainly in the future).  It is some of our most important national infrastructure.  And we’re not keeping up.  To keep quoting Copps:

the Internet was invented here and got its start here. Fast forward 11 years later and we’re Number 12 or 15 or 20 in the world. Some would quibble about which ranking is correct—but none of them is anywhere close to where your country and mine needs to be. I don’t say this because I want us to be able to pin a ribbon on our chest and tout our number-one status. I say it because we’re not coming back—America is not coming back—unless and until we get this infrastructure right.

So, the question is, how do we do it?  This is the trillion dollar question.  Copps’ full remarks are worth a read to get a better handle on the philosophical, political and economic context.  Can local communities step up to fill the gap? (Last year, North Carolina said no).  Will disruptive innovations catch fire, bypassing our gridlock?  I am still struggling to wrap my head around the politics and economics of all this.  So I don’t have a fully formed perspective yet.  But one thing is undeniably clear: this is really really important.  I’ll close w/ one more selection from Copps’ talk:

We have available to us the most open, dynamic and opportunity-creating technology ever devised, but its wings are clipped. Less and less are a thousand points of invention and innovation controlling out technology future, while more and more the models of consolidation and bottle-neck control are. This is not to deny the many good things happening out there, but it is to note that the system we have is making it harder for those good things to deliver their full potential. The struggle for an Open Internet is a new chapter in a very old story. It’s the story of gate-keepers and toll-collectors who have always been there when new technologies or businesses come along. Again, that’s something we should expect. It is also something we need to avoid. To put our heads in the sand on this one would have serious long-term consequences.

This is it — we need to understand and communicate the importance of and potential for this medium.  The big takeaway for me, in terms of framing, from both Copps’ talk and Moglen’s, is that there’s a very clear message to be made about innovation, competitiveness and the economy, and that’s where I’ll be focusing my attention.

3 comments on “Step Number One: Internet Access”

Nick, ping me.  Working on super-saturation wireless model that gets to the heart of marginal cost and rapid penetration and stimulation.  Maybe something for media lab to get involved in.

This is the Silicon Valley perspective favouring ad-hungry Google’s business model forcing other companies to pay for the scarce resource of broadband.

Naturally this perspective seeks to “liberate” the Internet (and content as well) to have less cost for their own product and services. But they’ve been so destructive of so many sectors and so harmed the economy, from the content industries (newspapers, media) to banking (overconnectivity and acceleration) to even government (WikiLeaks) that they need to be suppressed.

There is no demonstrable “innovation” that comes from Silicon Valley’s darlings cranking out one more ap and one more gadget. Big IT does not innovate; we are in the Iron Age of replication that does not add value but merely proliferates with impact on the environment you pay for later.

Nor are their “jobs created” by this fake “innovation” — old industries like AT&T or GM individually might have nearly a half a million employees in them — all the Silicon Valley new media/social media companies *taken together* make up only a quarter of a million or less. Instagram sells for $1 billion? It had *eleven employees*. The jobs the Internet destroys are not put back elsewhere — they are gone forever and only a very thin layer of oligarchs on top enrich themselves.

And please don’t cite that phony figure of “466,000 jobs created by apps,” which contains entirely speculative estimates of businesses putatively helped by having lots of hungry ill-paid app engineers and a few big VCs cashing out — a study prepared by a lobbying company with the Google CEO on the board anyway.

Broadband is a scarce resource and costs something. Telecoms incur costs for it. Other businesses incur costs. You cannot force the taxpayer to subsidize Google by pretending this is “for poor people in rural areas” unless your use case is entirely built on pirated movies and entertainment with a Bible or a textbook thrown in occasionally to pretend that this is about religion or education. Put very simply, why do my taxes have to go up in order to keep a kid in Alabama on free movie consumption on Youtube so Google can make ad revenue?

No, I do not work for a record company or a telecom. No I do not care for Ayn Rand. I’m an ordinary American who is not fooled by the latest corporate heist even dressed up in cyber clothing.

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