Broadband Reform In The US: Turner, Isen & Obama

I just finished listening to Brough Turner’s Ecomm 2008 presentation called “Own The Network.” His talk is available for download from IT Conversations, the accompanying slides and notes are available from his blog.

Mr Turner’s key assertion is that we insist upon owning the dark fiber to our homes & businesses. This is very similar to David Isen’s idea of “Fiber From The Home.” It’s a principle that I can completely get behind.

The incumbents carriers, be they ILEC or CableCo, thrive on the economics of bandwidth scarcity. They ensure that such scarcity is sustained as that in turn ensures their revenues. This process has been a detriment to the country as a whole.

However, it has been noted widely elsewhere that the wholesale cost of bandwidth has been collapsing, even to the point where wholesale providers are struggling. If bandwidth is so cheap and plentiful then why are my broadband options are essentially the same as they were 10 years ago? The answer lay in the famous “Last Mile” and the companies who provide that connection. The ideas espoused by Messrs Turner & Isen propose to solve the last mile problem definitively.

One can argue about the costs, estimates vary between $2k and 6k/home. I know that if given the opportunity I’d gladly pay to have a fiber drop to my home.

One thing is certain, none of the existing carriers want to make such a dramatic change in the status quo. This sort of change must be forced on them by external realities. External realities include the regulatory environment, which is government. I think what we usually lose sight of is that government is not some opaque and strange process, it’s really us.

In evolutionary terms such major changes in direction are only brought about by by dramatic events, sometimes referred to as “extinction events.” Some might say that the major auto makers are facing just such an event at the moment. I certainly wouldn’t disagree.

Mr Turner points to a handful of installations around Europe and North America where, for example, a condominium complex owns its own fiber. They pay the equivalent of under $20/mo for a 100 MB symmetrical internet connection. That’s simply mind-boggling.

Just recently Mr Obama made reference to internet access as part of his economic recovery plan. Perhaps it’s time that we think of internet connectivity in the same way we think of roads, sewers, and water supply systems? Maybe this kind of thought can figure into new the era of regulation by an overhauled FCC? One can hope.

We must fight to close the digital divide in the country, or most of the country will end up a digital ghetto.