Let's take the Internet back from the ISPs

The next great American infrastructure investment should be fiber to the home

You might have noticed that I've written about Google Fiber the last two weeks. That's because I see Google attempting to affect a change similar to the movement from dial-up to DSL and cable circuits, however hobbled we may be at the moment by the restrictions of our relatively sluggish cable, DSL, and wireless connections. Let's face it -- when compared to a "broadband" connection pumping 2Mbps downstream and 512Kbps up, leaping to Google Fiber's gigabit speeds would be like shifting from 33.6Kbps to a 2Mbps DSL pipe.

After my post ran last week, I read a story from Business Insider, which cited a Goldman Sachs report that determined the cost for Google to build out fiber across the country would be a staggering $140 billion. The story then cited Google's war chest of $45 billion to show that Google couldn't afford to build out nationally without putting itself into serious hock. That may be true, but I can't help but draw parallels between the Eisenhower Interstate Highway System and what would essentially be the modern equivalent, but on a foundation of fiber, not asphalt. A build-out on that scale would provide a high-speed data pathway connecting the entire country, house by house, apartment by apartment.

[ Also on InfoWorld: Google Fiber puts the ISPs to shame | You'll never get Google Fiber -- but you don't need it anyway | Why we need to win the battle for the ultrafast Internet | Get the latest practical info and news with Paul Venezia's The Deep End blog and InfoWorld's Data Center newsletter. ]

And it would only cost $140 billion? That's substantially less than the cost of a single year of war in 2008. That sum would hook up nearly the entire country to gigabit fiber, fiber that could later be upgraded to higher speeds largely without touching the fiber itself. Permanent upgradeable high-speed connectivity.

I'm sure some of you reading this are already seething with cries of socialism, and how could we possibly expect the government to do something like that in this day and age. At the same time, others are citing failed government projects as examples of waste and graft. Both sides have a point.

You could certainly argue how in a free market, this would be done more efficiently by private enterprise. You might even say it would be less expensive. You'd be wrong -- we've already tried that.

The big ISPs were given amazing sums of money to connect rural America to the Internet. They raided government funds for these build-outs, forced out the local competition, did a half-ass job of deploying "broadband," and called it a day. It seems that the only thing they're doing now is figuring out how to raise rates while providing ever crappier service.

The free market has failed the United States in terms of broadband deployment, precisely because there is no free market. The de facto regional monopolies are artificially constraining innovation and economic expansion in the United States due to the lack of competition.

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