The Empire Has no Clothes

I’ve spent the past two days attending the Broadband Cities conference. The focus was on metropolitan networks, mainly fiber, but also touching on wireless. Yesterday, I heard an excellent speech by the economist W. Brian Arthur and today Larry Lessig spoke.

Broadband Cities is an independent organization, but the reason they held this year’s conference in Utah was due to the rollout of the UTOPIA fiber network. I lobbied hard in favor of UTOPIA, both to the legislature regarding SB66 and to the Salt Lake City Mayor and City Council. It was no coincidence the conference was held in West Valley City, a participating UTOPIA city, rather than Salt Lake City which withdrew its support. A few of the council members are up for reelection this fall. If you wanted UTOPIA and reside in Salt Lake, you may be interested how they voted.

UTOPIA was restricted by the legislature and stopped in Salt Lake City by the forces who believe the free-market rules all. Many of these same legislators turned around the next year and came up with HB260, which imposed additional regulation on Internet Service Providers and is now being constitutionally challenged. So where does the free-market rule? It must be only where an entity has enough resources to change the rules.

The march towards privatizing and deregulating everything is where I depart with my Libertarian friends. The free-market only works if there is robust competition. The “invisible hand” becomes “invisible clothes” when you start looking at infrastructure, health care, and energy. If the market is dominated by a powerful entity or if entry is cost-impossible, then how does competition have a chance? In fact it doesn’t and guess who suffers?

Arthur emphasized and Lessig touched on the idea that there is a role for government in markets. I say not merely in fostering competition but also where there is a societal benefit. Free-marketeers decry any municipal participation in peoples’ lives as socialism, but that is answering the argument with an extreme. If pure capitalism has brought us Enron, Worldcom, Tyco, and a #16th ranking in worldwide broadband deployment, it is time for the pendulum to swing towards a more active role of government.

When a free-marketeer presents Amtrak as an example of government waste, I have to wonder what they think of the Interstate Highway System. This is also a government program and the cost has been in the trillions. Toll roads with electronic payment systems may have their place, but where would the United States be if Eisenhower had decided to wait for private enterprise to build the highway system? It is the same place we are headed because of the endless wail for privatizing everything in the past 30 years. Commercial healthcare has not brought us universal coverage. Commercial energy has lowered standards but not price. Commercial transportation needs bailout after bailout. America continues to suffer under this delusion.

Our country is more connected if it has effective broadband and a fast transportation system that covers all cities and towns. Americans are happier if they are healthy and not worrying about the cost of going to the hospital. Energy independence will make us safer and charge our economy.

We need leadership that isn’t bowing to the failed ideologies of the past quarter century.

7 thoughts on “The Empire Has no Clothes

  1. I am also a strong supporter of UTOPIA. A few years ago, I was at the Taylorsville City Council meeting when Paul Morris approached the City Council regarding funding the feasibility study. (Incidentally, I believe that Taylorsville voted for the money for the feasibility study, but have now withdrawn from UTOPIA.

    Regardless of all the techno-mumbo jumbo (sorry Pete, but sometimes Techies do speak their own language), one analogy stood out in my mind. At this meeting, Paul said that the fiber optics would be just like the streets & roads that the cities, states and federal government maintain. Many people travel those roads. Businesses have locations right by those roads. All pay taxes, in some form or another, to maintain and build those roads.

    Paul continued stating that various ISPs, cable companies, telecom companies and more (some businesses that might not even have been invented yet) would use these fiber optic “roads” to conduct business. Residential folks would travel the roads just like Mom and Pop driving down the freeway—doing whatever they do.

    I am not an expert on UTOPIA, but I have followed the issue during the legislative sessions. It appears (please correct me if I’m wrong) that the main opposition to UTOPIA comes from the big telephone and cable companies (ex. Qwest, AT&T, Comcast, etc). I’m not sure I want those guys building our digital freeways! I want to travel fast and unencumbered by profit seeking entities. There is a reason our physical highways are build and maintained by governmental entities. I love our free market system, but I also firmly believe this is an example where tax payer dollars should be used to pay for public services.

    I believe it is imperative that UTOPIA, or some other governmental entity, build these high speed digital roads. It will prevent monopolies and corporate gluttony—give small businesses a chance and give our citizens and students the opportunities they so deserve.

  2. Pingback: Travel Blog

  3. The Empire has no clothes position would be fine if everything we had was hard wired for broadband. A trip to the CES would show you that wireless is taking over. Last mile solutions should all be wireless and with new technology allowing existing copper wire to carry more band width the “fiber optic road” may be a very expensive short term solution.

  4. Wireless is a good solution for in-house or area mobility, not last mile connections. In no way does it carry near the potential that fiber carries. I don’t view current single-fiber capacity of 1.6 terabits as a “short term” solution.

  5. I wonder if there is an inherent problem in using One style of economy in such a large country as the US. Having everything (infrastructure, manufacturing, business, etc) only state or privately owned both have advantages, but on such a massive scale, the disadvantages loom very large. Just as a hybrid petro/electric engine does a very good job of powering a car, a balanced gov/private economy seems to do a better job of powering sustainable growth than an either/or solution. As we’re learning in Australia with some strong moves towards a more privatised health system, perhaps organisations whose primary focus is the bottom line don’t really have a patient’s long-term best health interests in mind when making decisions.

    Just in terms of having Wireless as last-mile technology, wouldn’t that make it easier to eavesdrop on your neighbor’s surfing habits and/or private e-mails? Even 802.11g isn’t perfect, it’s just much harder to crack than previous standards.

  6. Wireless is a horrible last mile solution in metropolitan areas. It works great in rural areas, and I am looking forward to WiMax use for that purpose. But when you get too many people on a wireless network, you lose speed dramatically, just like any other shared medium network (Ethernet). If we were planning on never needing more than a couple hundred kilobits/sec for each person, it could work. But, trust me, once the infrastructure is in place, we will be using our net connections as the sole source of information transmission in our homes. Phones, TV, everything will be over IP because you only need one strand of fiber to support everything you could possibly need. I am looking forward to 2006 when we might have a chance of having a Senator who isn’t openly hostile to technology.

  7. Pingback: Hammer of Truth » Profile: Pete Ashdown, US Senate 2006

Comments are closed.