Thursday, June 19, 2014

The network rules life

I read with interest, this blog post by Tom Wheeler, chairman of the FCC. Wheeler is actually quite profound in his opening paragraphs. He points out that Chattanooga, TN is next to a river, a natural network. Yes...a natural network. Wheeler also notes other networks to follow the river - the railroad, the paved road and the telegraph and telephone networks. They all brought economic prosperity to the city of Chattanooga.

I believe he is on to something. Networks are natural in life. From blood vessels to the veins in a leaf, to rivers, we see networks. Ants create their own ad hoc network wherever they go. Bees do the same thing. Every living animal uses a network of some sort to communicate threats, water, food and shelter. This has been going on for about a billion years, starting with bacteria that communicate to each other, to humans.

Wheeler's analogy and observations are spot on, but what he doesn't mention is that community networks are a public interest rather than a private interest. They level the playing field for all who want access. So it should come as no surprise that private network operators like Comcast, Verizon, AT&T and others are concerned that government should be competing with private interests in the realm of internet access.

Last night, the city of Lindon voted down a proposal to move forward on Milestone 2 with Macquarie Capital's proposal to finance and build out a network that is unfinished and has a trail of debts to repay. According to the blog, one of the members of the city council is married to a vice president of Vivint a home security and wireless internet access provider. That same member of the city council had no trouble grabbing the ears of the others and tugging them away from a solution that could build out the Utopia network in their fair city.

What that council member didn't talk about is the consequences of going dark on that network or the lack of any viable alternatives to Utopia. We can almost always count on a private interest to trump a public interest if they have enough power. The incumbent network providers are hell-bent on preventing the public interest from interfering with their profits and last night, they showed their true colors.

In nature, the networks benefit everyone - networks are symbiotic. The network offered by Vivint, Comcast and others, will always bend to the will of the shareholder before the public interest is ever considered. That means, the networks they build only serve a very narrow interest.

While we are free to drive on our roads, we tend to forget that they are infrastructure. The opponents of community broadband will consciously omit the fact that roads, sewers, electricity, they are all infrastructure. So is the network that makes up the internet.

If all the roads were toll roads, no one would be able to get around without going bankrupt. Seems that private network operators would prefer to see their customers as indentured servants than as citizens. Community broadband is a way to eliminate the trolls on the road, by serving all, equally and fairly.
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