Imagine living in an MDU (multi-dwelling-unit) in Amsterdam and needing a connection to the Internet. Unlike in the United States, many First World countries with dense populations such as Qatar, Singapore, the Netherlands, and many others, treat broadband infrastructure as a public utility rather than as a competitive commodity. Just like water, power, and sewer, broadband in these forward-thinking places is considered a public utility with a “functional separation,” which means that the conduit for the delivery of services is separated from the services themselves.
Here in Nevada County, companies like Comcast, AT&T, and Verizon deliver both the conduit and the services (triple play), which means we pay higher prices for slower speeds and less services, compared to other countries. In Amsterdam, every business and residential premise in the city’s inner core is connected to a high-speed fiber optic network.
As an apartment dweller in Amsterdam, your home comes with the broadband built-in, just as we’ve come to expect with power, water, and sewer. With water and sewer, the conduit and service are inextricably linked, but with power the functional separation is a competitive advantage, as it is in many US states seeking to reduce their constituent’s energy costs. Similarly, the Amsterdam broadband user does not have to bother with getting a broadband fiber wire run to her unit, it is already there. All she has to do is order the services, and in Amsterdam that means choosing from a menu of a dozen phone, video content, and data providers who best meet her specific needs at very competitive prices.
In addition, it’s important to understand that wireless and wired infrastructure are not competitive, they are complementary. You cannot have one without the other. Fiber is the gold standard for the 21st century, it’s your great-grandfather’s copper. In America, municipal fiber networks will be a long time coming, but our hybrid model of many providers, some municipal but many private, who understand that broadband is a utility, will be viewed as a strength particularly in regards to network diversity and security. The positive results, however, remain to be realized until public policy starts to address the pain we all feel in trying to get Internet-connected in Nevada County.
For further information about the history of America’s dysfunctional broadband strategy since the 1970s, Harvard Law Professor Susan Crawford is the best continental documentarian we have, and her book “Captive Audience, The Telecom Industry and Monopoly Power in the New Gilded Age” explains that history very well.
We are at the beginning of the largest disruptive wave yet of technological innovation, and the Internet is at the center. The Internet of Things, Artificial Intelligence, and AR/VR, all depend upon a solid broadband infrastructure. Watch this space.
~Michael P. Anderson, CEO of Clientworks, Inc. and CIO of Spiral Internet © 2017