Tag: "the economist"

Posted August 11, 2012 by Christopher Mitchell

The conservative, eminently pro-capitalist publication The Economist understands why community broadband is important. "The Need for Speed" discusses Kansas City and Chattanooga -- two of the best broadband networks in the nation.

But while others have become stuck on the wrong question -- "what can you do with a gig," The Economist recognized what is important.

This suggests that the true benefits of municipal high-speed networks are not the consumer-friendly baubles such as high-speed video downloads, HDTV and the like, but the vast range of possibilities they open. Over the fibre network is a wireless mesh that allows government, so often wary of innovation, to try new approaches. Police in Chattanooga have vastly expanded their communications and mobile data analysis. Traffic lights will soon be able to respond in real time to changing traffic patterns. Rubbish can be collected more efficiently. EPB can avoid, or minimise, power cuts during storms, and can charge its customers more accurately and transparently. This sort of network can improve a city’s operations while broadening its tax base. Results like that are well worth a dunk in a shark tank.

This is about so much more than downloads. Whenever you read someone asking "what can you do with a gig," you are reading someone who doesn't get it. It is like asking why anyone would buy a muscle car. We got speed limits! Why get a car that can go faster than the limit?

I have never maxed out the amount of electricity coming into my house. Am I doing something wrong? Our connections should be built so they do not limit us. Instead, those defending the massive companies that rip us off every month demand to know how we would use a better connection.

Community networks are not just about faster connections - they are about a network that the community owns, that empowers the community to innovate, and that is focused 100% on empowering local businesses and residents.

Posted January 16, 2011 by Christopher Mitchell

The Economist has again editorialized about US telecom policy, in this case specifically about network neutrality.

This debate is loudest in America, uncoincidentally the developed market with the least competitive market in internet access. Democrats, who are in favour of net-neutrality rules, insist regulation is needed to prevent network operators discriminating in favour of their own services. A cable-TV firm that sells both broadband internet access and television services over its cables might, for example, try to block internet-based video that competes with its own television packages. Republicans, meanwhile, worry that net neutrality will be used to justify a takeover of the internet by government bureaucrats, stifling innovation. (That the internet’s origins lie in a government-funded project is quietly passed over.)

They take a fairly middling approach, regarding the network neutrality rules as decent, arguing that some measure of discrimination should be allowed and could be beneficial (one wonders if they truly thought deeply about this: before YouTube, connections would have been optimized against streaming traffic and YouTube may never have succeeded).

In any event, they answer their own question: the real problem in the U.S. is lack of competition among Internet service providers.

These details are important, but the noise about them only makes the omission more startling: the failure in America to tackle the underlying lack of competition in the provision of internet access. In other rich countries it would not matter if some operators blocked some sites: consumers could switch to a rival provider. That is because the big telecoms firms with wires into people’s homes have to offer access to their networks on a wholesale basis, ensuring vigorous competition between dozens of providers, with lower prices and faster connections than are available in America. Getting America’s phone and cable companies to open up their networks to others would be a lot harder for politicians than prattling on about neutrality; but it would do far more to open up the net.

Unfortunately, they do not consider another remedy: local ownership that is accountable to the public. This approach can offer both competition (via open access) as well as ensuring general network management puts community needs...

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