The (word) Internet is dead. Long live Fiber!

To me, this NYT article suggests that Susan Crawford “doesn’t get it” about the Internet, in a an amazingly extreme way (an “epic fail”). She focuses on a specific hardware technology (fiber), when in fact the whole point of the Internet was to focus on interoperability among ALL transport technologies and all end-to-end communications. She focuses on Municipal ownership, as if local towns are somehow the most “fair” – these are the towns that sold exclusive franchises in the first place, and continue to maintain them (viz. Philadelphia). And these are the governments that are often least tolerant of those who think and act differently or are different (consider Salem in U.S. colonial times, or many Southern towns in times up to the present).

So I think it’s worth it to ask two questions:

  1. the fastest growing and most important Internet access technology is the support of mobility and the Internet of Things (that is, connecting device to device). What does “Fiber” have to do with that? (I know fiber is good for your digestion, but that’s reaching). The general principles of open connectivity that the FCC tried to adopt were about any access technology. The incumbent providers of digital cellular are buying up Wireless Hotspots as an “offload” technique to extend their monopoly positions. They seek to extend spectrum monopolies by using the “service-based” organization of the FCC to cause almost all bands of the “spectrum” to be barred from use for digital network technologies, or from interoperation that would provide general purpose Internet access and transport. What does “Fiber” have to do with that?
  2. Since Susan Crawford is the primary signer of the letter commending Pres. Obama’s appointment of Tom Wheeler as FCC Chair, I’d like to know why the former head of the *Cellular* Telecommunications Industry Association should be praised for redefining the question of Open Internet Access to ground-based, residential-only access? What about enterprise access? What about cellular? Why municipal? No doubt one might try to argue that this would be a small step toward ameliorating the problem, but given the complexity of solving the problem one town at a time, where the towns are “in the pocket” of the ground-based access companies, is it a practical step, or just a magician’s “look over here” move?

Reframing the issue using a near-non sequitur is a classic Bernays-style approach to manufacturing public opinion. Bernays is famous for calling Lucky Strikes “freedom torches” and organizing a movement themed around women’s rights to promote smoking. We’ve already seen the industry-driven diversion of attention from High-Speed Internet Access to “Broadband” by a rhetorical device of never mentioning “Internet” as an architecture. Now we see the issue being renamed as “building Fiber” – with no real connection to opening up access to the Internet at the edge, or access to continue to create the Internet, as all of us do, whether we label ourselves providers or not.

Why the new story? Cui bono? Does the Obama Administration and its policy folks (Crawford and Werbach wrote the original plan with Larry Summers) really just “not get” the Internet? Or is this a somewhat more deliberate political move – perhaps trying to get some political win while ignoring the biggest issue and allowing the Internet as a concept to die?

Further, when one looks around the world, citizens are fighting to keep their countries’ Internet access as open as possible against government intervention. Yet in our country, we focus on public works projects to deploy a particular kind of cable (call it Broadband or now Fiber). What’s one got to do with the other? What about the next technology down the road that opens up communications? Must we depend on our cities and towns to innovate?

This is not a partisan issue. All US citizens deserve the freedom to speak and the freedom to assemble. We take that for granted, whether we are demonstrating support for a particular meaning of the Second Amendment, or discuss the relative merits of different companies’ products and services in a free market. We don’t spend our time discussing the architecture of public meeting rooms or the dimensions of town squares, or whether every town should have a shopping mall, as if they somehow substitute for those freedoms. (Note, I am not talking about the Bill of Rights here. This is not about government’s power, but the concentration of cultural and commercial power to limit communications being renamed as a discussion about the management of town water and sewer systems).

The Wire Next Time
Apr 27 2014

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. — LAST week’s proposal by the Federal
Communications Commission to allow Internet service providers to charge
different rates to different online content companies — effectively
ending the government’s commitment to net neutrality — set off a
flurry of protest.

The uproar is appropriate: In bowing before an onslaught of corporate
lobbying, the commission has chosen short-term political expediency over
the long-term interest of the country.

But if this is the end of net neutrality as we know it, it is not the
end of the line for fair and equitable Internet access. Indeed, the
commission’s decision frees Americans to focus on a real long-term
solution: supporting open municipal-level fiber networks.

Such networks typically provide a superior and less expensive option to
wholly private networks operated by Internet service providers like
Comcast and Time Warner.