- 9 - High speed internet as a public good.
First up, let me ask you a favor preemptively tell me why you think I'm wrong. Tell me why my argument doesn't make sense, and that you've facts that I don't. I'd love to understand why I may be wrong because without that, ideas can and will only stay, immature and perhaps even deeply flawed. Onward.
When did your Internet service actually get better or cheaper? Let me guess, never.
Through how many Internet Service Providers can you get to the web? 1, 2 maybe 3 if you include mobile?
After listening to Aman Brar of Apparatus, Brad Wheeler the CIO of Indiana University at the Indianapolis Business Journal power breakfast and Alex Ohanian the co-founder of Reddit at SXSWi in Austin, I had the galvanizing moment I’d been searching for for a long time – I think that the democratized access to high speed cost-effective Internet and the digital world is the modern day economic rights issue of our generation.
Why? Because access to ideas, new forms of free education, and eCommerce enables people to advance with far greater speed than those without. Proof? In a McKinsey & Co study, the internet accounted for 21% of GDP growth in developed countries between 2006 and 2011 and most of that growth was accounted for by small and medium sized business (global). Additionally for us to have an internet penetration of 78.3% (2011), 27th in the world, as the country who invented the technology is damn embarrassing.
Isn’t it time we take the correlation between high speed internet and ecommerce and our GDP growth more seriously by investing in internet infrastructure as a public good? With cities like Kansas City lobbying heavily and securing Google Fiber, and Chattanooga securing 1 Gigabit internet (CBS video report), and others investing heavily into high-speed internet infrastructure they’re enabling their populace to interact, educate and capitalize on digital access in new an importantly, unpredictable ways. How are we able to reinvent education through cost effective means when in many cases the cost to have high speed is an annual $600 per/year? This may not be a problem for many people, but who I fear for most, are those brilliant young minds yet to impact our world who as of yet don’t have the access or knowledge of what they might be missing.
I’d never argue that safety, nourishment, housing, education, and basic heat and water are without question more important public goods that the US population deserve, but what I would argue is that globalized connection and communication offered through the internet should be considered a proximal right to those government supported programs. It’s time to make large telecommunication monopolies compete on quality, speed of service AND COST not just on geography, by investing in our own digital wellbeing.
I come to this position with a high degree of skepticism because of my natural propensity is to believe that the private sector should be the mechanism that delivers and services cost effective non-public goods. But how can we reasonably argue that Internet access is any different than let’s say mail service 50 years ago? (which of course ironically has been nearly replaced by internet service). Additionally, the belief that the public sector can't provide these services is flat out wrong.
It's time our leaders take a stand for the digital good of the people, the Midwest and Indiana by embracing our New American future as a technologically bound union of states and make brave investments in our digitally connected futures by at least publicly exploring the opportunity of owning, supporting and creating our digital identity by breaking the traditional telecommunication structure into smaller more dispersed pieces. At a minimum it will put competitive pressure on these service delivery agencies to more cost-effectively offer Internet access, which I believe will allow the populace to create the digitally enabled future we so desire.
- One of my heros Tim Wu wrote about information monopolies in his amazing must-read book for entrepreneurs, “The Master Switch: The Rise and Fall of Information Empires”