IPcentral Weblog
  The DACA Blog

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

The Perils of Thinking of Broadband as a Public Utility
(previous | next)

Richard Bennett and Matt Sherman explain why it's a bad idea. (And here are a few of my old rants on the issue.)


If we've learned anything at all about from the history of Internet-as-utility, it's that this strained analogy only applies in cases where there is no existing infrastructure, and probably ends best when a publicly-financed project is sold (or at least leased) to a private company for upgrades and management. We should be suspicious of projects aimed at providing Wi-Fi mesh because they're slow as molasses on a winter's day.

I don't see any examples of long-term success in the publicly-owned and operated networking space. And I also don't see any examples of publicly-owned and operated Internet service providers doing any of the heavy lifting in the maintenance of the Internet protocols, a never-ending process that's vital to the continuing growth of the Internet.

Pursuing a public utility model while also desiring competition are fundamentally contradictory goals. Utilities are designed not to compete. Do you, or does anyone you know, have a choice of providers for water, sewage or electricity?

My second question would be: is there anyone in the technology world who sees public utilities as a model for innovation? A 1.5 megabit connection (T1) was an unimaginable luxury when I started in tech in the mid-90's. It was for well-funded companies only. Today, it is a low-end consumer connection and costs around 80% less. Has your sewage service followed a similar trajectory?

A public utility is designed to be "good enough" and little more. There is no need, and little room, for differentiation or progress. Your electricity service is essentially unchanged from 20 years ago, and will look the same 10 years from now. Broadband, on the other hand, requires constant innovation if we are to move forward -- and it has been delivering it, even if we desire more.

posted by Adam Thierer @ 11:45 PM | Broadband , Internet , Municipal Ownership

Share |

Link to this Entry | Printer-Friendly


Nice post. Covered this last week on my site as well.

Posted by: nick at November 19, 2008 1:19 AM

Post a Comment:

Blog Main
RSS Feed  
Recent Posts
  EFF-PFF Amicus Brief in Schwarzenegger v. EMA Supreme Court Videogame Violence Case
New OECD Study Finds That Improved IPR Protections Benefit Developing Countries
Hubris, Cowardice, File-sharing, and TechDirt
iPhones, DRM, and Doom-Mongers
"Rogue Archivist" Carl Malamud On How to Fix Gov2.0
Coping with Information Overload: Thoughts on Hamlet's BlackBerry by William Powers
How Many Times Has Michael "Dr. Doom" Copps Forecast an Internet Apocalypse?
Google / Verizon Proposal May Be Important Compromise, But Regulatory Trajectory Concerns Many
Two Schools of Internet Pessimism
GAO: Wireless Prices Plummeting; Public Knowledge: We Must Regulate!
Archives by Month
  September 2010
August 2010
July 2010
June 2010
  - (see all)
Archives by Topic
  - A La Carte
- Add category
- Advertising & Marketing
- Antitrust & Competition Policy
- Appleplectics
- Books & Book Reviews
- Broadband
- Cable
- Campaign Finance Law
- Capitalism
- Capitol Hill
- China
- Commons
- Communications
- Copyright
- Cutting the Video Cord
- Cyber-Security
- Digital Americas
- Digital Europe
- Digital Europe 2006
- Digital TV
- E-commerce
- e-Government & Transparency
- Economics
- Education
- Electricity
- Energy
- Events
- Exaflood
- Free Speech
- Gambling
- General
- Generic Rant
- Global Innovation
- Googlephobia
- Googlephobia
- Human Capital
- Innovation
- Intermediary Deputization & Section 230
- Internet
- Internet Governance
- Internet TV
- Interoperability
- IP
- Local Franchising
- Mass Media
- Media Regulation
- Monetary Policy
- Municipal Ownership
- Net Neutrality
- Neutrality
- Non-PFF Podcasts
- Ongoing Series
- Online Safety & Parental Controls
- Open Source
- PFF Podcasts
- Philosophy / Cyber-Libertarianism
- Privacy
- Privacy Solutions
- Regulation
- Search
- Security
- Software
- Space
- Spectrum
- Sports
- State Policy
- Supreme Court
- Taxes
- The FCC
- The FTC
- The News Frontier
- Think Tanks
- Trade
- Trademark
- Universal Service
- Video Games & Virtual Worlds
- VoIP
- What We're Reading
- Wireless
- Wireline
Archives by Author
PFF Blogosphere Archives
We welcome comments by email - look for a link to the author's email address in the byline of each post. Please let us know if we may publish your remarks.

The Progress & Freedom Foundation