How To Solve The Net Neutrality Problem

By SamuelRose, published at 10 May 2007 - 8:12pm, last updated 12 years 17 weeks ago.

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Robert X. Cringely has new posting wherin he discusses his concept of each of us owning our last mile, and cooperatively creating our own "pipes".

This connects to an ongoing series of postings we've been making at about the looming spectre of US telcos and cablecos controlling and manipulating what the content amd bits that their customers transprot across the bandwidth the customers are leasing from the telcos/cablecos.

Cringely's idea (inspired by Bob Frankston) is a new take an a relatively old idea: People on local levels band together and create a cooperative, through which they pay for the installation of their own Fiber-to-home connections. From the article:

Frankston points out that we build and finance public infrastructure in a public way using public funds with the goal of benefiting economic, social, and cultural development in our communities. So why not do the same with the Internet, which is an information infrastructure? Well we did that, didn't we, with the National Information Infrastructure program of the 1990s, which was intended to bring fiber straight to most American homes? About $200 billion in tax credits and incentives went primarily to telephone companies participating in the NII program. What happened with that? They took the money, that's what, and gave us little or nothing in return.

But just because the highway contractor ran off with the money without finishing the road doesn't mean we can go without roads. It DOES mean, however, that we ought not to buy another road from that particular contractor.

The obvious answer is for regular folks like you and me to own our own last mile Internet connection. This idea, which Frankston supports, is well presented by Bill St. Arnaud in a presentation you'll find among this week's links. (Bill is senior director of advanced networks with CANARIE, which is responsible for the coordination and implementation of Canada's next generation optical Internet initiative.) The idea is simple: run Fiber To The Home (FTTH) and pay for it as a community of customers -- a cooperative. The cost per fiber drop, according to Bill's estimate, is $1,000-$1,500 if 40 percent of homes participate. Using the higher $1,500 figure, the cost to finance the system over 10 years at today's prime rate would be $17.42 per month.

What we'd get for our $17.42 per month is a gigabit-capable circuit with no bits inside - just a really fast connection to some local point of presence where you could connect to ANY ISP wanting to operate in your city.

So, you could pay $1500.00 (about the cost of a top-end new computer) to create your own pipe, and then invite and and all ISP's to compete for your business. This is exactly the opposite of how "last mile" connections work now in the US. Now, we see a system where people lease connections from telcos and cablecos and have one choice for who the ISP can be, and one exhorbitantly high price. There is very little competition, because the pipes are monopolized by the telcos and cablecos.

Cringely cites another potential advantage of people owning their wires:

The effect of this move would be beyond amazing. It would be astounding. No more arguments about Net Neutrality, for one thing, because we'd effectively be extending our ownership and control of the wires all the way to the ISP interconnect. Of course you'd still have to buy Internet service, but at NerdTV rates the amount of bandwidth used by a median U.S. broadband customer would be less than $2.00 per month. Though with that GREAT BIG PIPE most of us would be tempted to use a lot more bandwidth, which is exactly the point.

There would be a community-financed Internet revolution and this time, because it would be locally funded and managed, very little money would be stolen. Dark fibers would be lighting up all over America, telco capital costs would plummet, and a truly competitive market for Internet services would emerge. In 2-3 years whatever bandwidth advantage countries like Korea have would be erased and we'd be back on track building even more innovative online industries.

This would be a real marketplace not a fake one. Today's system is a fake because it depends on capturing the value of the application -- communications -- in the transport and that would no longer be possible because with the Internet the value is created OUTSIDE the network.

This same cooperative funding idea could be used to install wireless internet equipment in communities, too. A community of people could share ownership of a tower, and this could be financed on a monthly basis, too.

Imagine combining a cooperative fiber-to-home program with a community-based marketing effort, similar to what the Spread FireFox campaign has done for the FireFox webrowser. The "Spread FireFox" campaign was so successful because the campaign's participants were fed up with Internet Explorer as a web browser, and were glad to have an alternaive. I am sure a similar pent-up vein of sentiment is out there across the US regarding the state of broadband internet, just waiting to be tapped into. This could make self-owned/cooperative-funded fiber-to-home a real and plausible alternative to the telcos and cable