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Own the Last Mile 172

jonabbey writes "Robert X. Cringely's most recent column advocates a radical solution to the network neutrality thicket: create our own last mile infrastructure, rather than paying the telcos and cable companies to use our bandwidth as a lever. From the article: "A model in which the infrastructure is paid for as infrastructure -- privately, locally, nationally, and internationally can create a true marketplace in which the incentives are aligned. Instead of having the strange phenomenon of carriers spending billions and then arguing that they deserve to be paid, we'd have them bidding on contracts to install and/or maintain connectivity to a marketplace that is buying capacity and making it available so value can be created without having to be captured within the network and thus taken out of the economy."
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Own the Last Mile

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  • Mesh (Score:3, Interesting)

    by paganizer (566360) <thegrove1@hotmail.cRASPom minus berry> on Saturday July 01, 2006 @06:29AM (#15642134) Homepage Journal
    I'm probably not getting some subtle nuance, but do not the various wireless nationwide mesh projects pretty much make this a non-issue?
    Sure it sucks now; the assinine laws being passed truly suck and all, but with more geographic communities able to talk to each other without using telecom infrastructure, it looks like the interweb has a chance to get back to being the unregulated freedom space it is supposed to be.
  • The real problem (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Kazrael (918535) on Saturday July 01, 2006 @06:41AM (#15642159) Homepage
    The real problem with this idea comes in with people who want access from rural locations or connecting cities across large distances. Who is going to pay the million bucks to get the wiring from the DFW area to Austin?
  • Re:wireless (Score:4, Interesting)

    by NeilTheStupidHead (963719) on Saturday July 01, 2006 @06:43AM (#15642163) Journal
    That is a great idea, and many cities around Europe and even a few in North America are trying to implement 'free' wireless networks (tax-payer subsidised). The problem is not that not everyone has a wireless connection. The problem is that everyone is not capable or willing to upgrade to a wireless connection. There's also the cost for a widespread wireless network. This kind of internet service is only even remotely practical in an extremely dense population area like the core of a major city. The small amount of money you save not running wires from the telephone pole to houses/building does not offset the cost of all the wireless 'hotspots' needed for wide area coverage. And as far as maintaince goes, four or five meters of wire are a lot less likely to get damaged in a storm and are also far cheaper to replace. Locally, the two 'highspeed' ISPs are the two competing cable/telephone companies. One (Company A) owns all the lines regarless of thier use and the other (Company B) piggybacks even their telephone and cable service on the other's infrastructure. The difference in price between the company that has to maintain the infrastructure and the company that has to pay to use it is about five dollars in favour of Company B, but their services is about 25% slower.
  • by Sulka (4250) <sulka@NoSPAm.iki.fi> on Saturday July 01, 2006 @07:08AM (#15642189) Homepage Journal
    In the apartment complex I live in, we installed HomePNA equipment that's owned by the complex. As a result, we're paying an ISP only for the hooked ADSL connections and thus have been able to both cut down costs get a faster connections over time. I'm paying $2 a month for a 1 mbit/s connection so this strategy certainly has worked for us. Yes, the total bandwidth (16mbit/s) is shared by everyone participating but this far I've actually gotten that amount of bandwidth every time I tried.
  • by hey! (33014) on Saturday July 01, 2006 @07:18AM (#15642206) Homepage Journal
    What incentive would the bandwidth providers have... for practising a transparent and 'fair' bisiness model? How many 'consumers' are technically capable / informed to take up this task?

    I think you may have missed the point. The broadband providers would be out of the picture, so far as the business of prividing broadband access is concerned. ISPs would have to compete on Internet services not access. The question of 'fair' business models wouldn't come up, because they wouldn't have monopoloy control over anything. And if we don't have large companies leveraging their publicly granted monopolies into strategic advantages in Internet services, the result is that the government gets out of the business of monitoring and intervening in private enterprises to enforce fairness.

    How many 'consumers' are technically capable / informed to take up this task?

    How many are capable now? And even if they were capable, what good does that do if they can only get broadband through one provider?

    A public broadband infrastructure would lower the barriers to entry in service. If you don't like Comcast or Verizon, you can choose a small service oriented ISP, or even get together with your friends and start a co-op. You might not be able to figure out which ISP is the best, but if you didn't like your service you could cancel it and buy somebody else's. You can't do that now in many places without giving up broadband.
  • I like this analogy (Score:5, Interesting)

    by LaughingCoder (914424) on Saturday July 01, 2006 @08:01AM (#15642278)
    In a sense Microsoft is a lot like the Roman Empire. The Roman Empire's growth and economy was driven by conquering and plundering neighboring regions. Within the Empire they created a sort of safe economic zone where commerce could work and technology could be developed. However, that came at a price, as they tended to destroy everything outside the empire as it grew.

    Even though I am not a Microsoft basher -- in fact probably on these boards I would be characterized as a Microsoft shill -- I think this analogy really does a nice job of describing Microsoft's behavior. And it probably also explains why my personal feeling is that, by-and-large, Microsoft has done more good than bad for folks like me (software developer). That's because I'm essentially "inside the empire". No doubt most Roman citizens felt the same way about their government's actions. That said, this analogy helps me to better understand the bitterness and vitriol directed at Microsoft that I witness on places like these boards, as many of the complaining folks consider themselves among the plundered.

    Of course if one accepts the analogy, it is tempting to extrapolate what the future might hold for Microsoft. The Roman Empire grew so large that ultimately it collapsed because they couldn't control such a large and disparate entity. I think we may be seeing signs of that collapse in Microsoft as well.

    Et tu, Ozzie?
  • meeting halfway (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday July 01, 2006 @08:05AM (#15642286)
    We are building a house in a remote, upscale community of 125 houses. The only option out there for access is cable which isn't much of an option as the ISP is small and not very forward looking. I contacted some of the better alternative ISPs in the area in the hopes of finding someone who would be more willing to work with a small community. Most of them said if we can get a commit level of greater than 50% from the community they would bring the service out to us for free (DSL). The DSLAM would be local so everyone would have a fast connection. The ISP is calculating recovery of installation costs in 2.5 years. The people that commit would have to sign a 3 year agreement. Some of you might be thinking that why would someone do that with only 6 months of guaranteed income. The ISPs all said that their customer loyalty rates are higher than average so they are counting on keeping customers for a much longer period of time, plus there isn't much choice in ISPS as there would be in a larger community.

    The second alternative which are are looking into is the cost to get the main Telco ISP to drag fiber to us. So far they have speculated that the cost would be around $250K plus we would have to purchase the termination equipment on our end. The builder would be willing to run the fiber from the local demark to each home for free (we pay for the cable). The conservative estimate is that it would take us around 8 years to pay off (at normal monthly cable rates) but we would all have shared access to the fiber.

    There is a huge disparity in the costs that the small ISP is calculating for the fiber and what the telco would charge us, I am not sure where that comes from yet but we are looking into it.

  • by jonwil (467024) on Saturday July 01, 2006 @08:47AM (#15642369)
    If the companies that own the copper, coax and fibre were to change the way they operate, they could continue to make globs of money AND do better for the customer (better yet, they can make MORE money from the bandwidth hogs downloading over bittorrent)

    Here is my 5 step plan:
    1.Stop selling/advertising "Unlimited" bandwidth.
    2.Give customers a limited amount of bandwidth per month. Once that has been exceeded, they have to pay $x per gig or part thereof over the limit. (which means the bandwidth hogs pay more). Make sure that the monthly fee, the bandwidth you get for that fee and the extra charges are clearly spelt out in the terms of service.
    3.Give customers a full open internet. Do not give preferential treatement to (or conversly, limit/throttle) any ports, protocols or networks/machines except where necessary to maintain network security/integrity (e.g. blocking mailservers running on residential DSL/cable/fibre accounts to prevent spam zombies). Do not restrict the running of servers unless necessary to maintain network security/integrity.
    4.Make a full range of extra options available and dont make them expensive. Static IPs should be available to ALL customers (including those on "residental" connections) and should be in a different network block to the normal pool of residential dynamic IP addresses. (if they cost a little extra, thats perfectly ok). Also, it should be possible to "pre purchase" extra bandwitdh for a per-gig price that is lower than what you would get charged at the end of the month (so if you are doing a really big file download such as a linux ISO and you think it will push you over the limit, prepurchase the bandwidth to save money). If you dont use the prepurchased bandwidth, it would be forfited at the end of the month.
    and 5.Be honest to your customers. (not like all the cable companies etc that will cut you off or cut your speed if you exceed a certain amount of bandwidth but wont tell you what that amount is or how much you have used already)

    If US ISPs followed this plan, the bandwidth hogs that download TV shows, movies, XBOX/PS2/PC ISOZ, linux ISOs or whatever else would pay extra whilst the normal users who dont download large stuff wouldnt be subsidising the heavy users anymore.

    Of course, this will never happen. Why? Because for the ISPs, its NOT about money, its about CONTROL. One of the things that makes the internet great is that anyone can publish their own origonal content. The internet can be used by garage bands and amatuer film makers everwhere as a way to disseminate their work and get it seen. The internet can be used by bloggers and others to post their own options even if those opinions conflict with the "collective groupthink". The internet can be used by programmers to post and share free code, free software and free ideas.

    This is what those in power want to stop. If the ISPs implement tiered internet, you can bet they will use it to make the big guys bigger and the small guys smaller.

    Search engines like MSN will be in the high tier and engines like google will be in the low tier. Microsoft.com will be in the high tier whereas sourceforge.net and gnu.org will be in the low tier. Sites like nytimes.com, news.com.au, cnn.com, foxnews.com and abcnews.com will be in the high tier while sites that dont follow the "groupthink" such as news.bbc.co.uk or slashdot.org will be in the low tier. Sites like geocities.com (with all the restrictions like a ban on posting any audio file even if you can prove you own the copyright) will be in the high tier whereas sites that give you hosting without the restrictions (paid or free) will be in the low tier.
    And so on.

    Now is the time to rise up and fight the large ISPs to keep the internet open.
    Fight the push to turn normal people into consumers with no abillity to publish their origonal content. Fight the push to tell us what we can and cant watch on our TVs.
    Fight the push to tell us what software we can run on our computers.
    Fight the push by the big media co
  • by Diamondback (111383) on Saturday July 01, 2006 @09:01AM (#15642395)
    Start a co-op? Do you know how hard it is, for example, to start a DSL co-op?

    Don't get into one of those libertarian, "you should do it for yourself!" things, because if you're not 100% hardcore, you're going down.

    I only say this from experience.
  • by Zobeid (314469) on Saturday July 01, 2006 @09:24AM (#15642431)
    I've been observing Microsoft for many years. Their whole business was built on the idea that the platform with the most software Wins, and therefore third-party developers for the Windows platform must be supported, nurtured, coddled, wooed. . . as long as they aren't doing something that competes with Microsoft itself, of course.

    Microsoft treats most of the world like dirt. End users get treated like dirt, and ripped off on a massive scale. Corporate clients get manipulated, jerked around, and treated like dirt. Competitors get buried, or bought, or bought and buried. Even national governments sometimes are lied to, jerked around, and treated like dirt. Partners (like PC makers) are strong-armed into serving Microsoft's interests. The only people in the world who Microsoft play nice with are their domesticated Windows software developers.

    So, it's natural for Windows software developers to scratch their heads and wonder why everybody else talks so mean about this wonderful company.
  • by Bookwyrm (3535) on Saturday July 01, 2006 @10:07AM (#15642528)
    If you ask techies about the issue, they suggest more/bigger/better technology. If you ask business folks about the issue, they suggest pricing and features and rates. If you ask legistlators about the issue, they suggest regulation.

    This isn't exactly any of those as much as PEBCAK. We're leaving the world of computer-to-computer communications behind and it's becoming one of people-using-computers-to-other-people-using-compu ters communication.

    Let me see if I can offer some food for thought --

    Within the realm of automobiles and driving, a driver has immediate feedback from how s/he is driving, can see other drivers and how they are driving, has turn signals, horns, and can also see things like traffic jams, ambulances, etc. Even outside of any legal regulations, a given area can develop certain common behaviors among drivers because they will learn from each other, consciously or not, purposeful or not, about what to do, what not to do.

    Within the realm of net-usage, there is no feedback for the end users on whether or not how/when/what they are doing on the network is affecting anyone else or what is going on. It's like everyone is driving bumper cars without vision, hearing, or any sort of feedback, and the only control is the gas pedal. You just floor it and hope you bounce around to where you want to go. Maybe you do, maybe you don't.

    Without any sort of feedback, no 'rules of the road' or such things like "slower traffic keep right" (for US drivers) can develop. The users can't tell what's going on and adjust. So, various parties are trying to 'help' the users:

    Business: "We will make separate lanes for separate speeds, and people will pay for the speeds they want."

    Techies: "We don't want separate lanes - we will make the roads bigger until the problem goes away! Or make roads so cheap the users can have their own!"

    Government: "We will regulate the roads to keep the users safe from one another."

    In all cases, third parties are trying to 'help' the average user because each of them think they know best. Whether or not any of them actually do know best is a secondary issue to the one that each of them probably does know *more* than the average user about what is going on.

    If every user had some sort of feedback as to how they were affecting other users, then I suspect that in most cases the users would manage to work things out one way or the other among themselves. Because the user base cannot, everyone is suggesting solutions to take care of the problem without seeking real input from the major stakeholders -- the users, who are simultaneously the source of the problems from their usage of the network taken as a whole.

    Regardless of solution chosen or what actually happens, the lack of feedback to the users and user controls (outside of, say, trying to force a web page to (re)load) would suggest that none of the solutions will truly solve the PEBCAK issue because there's no way to really involve the users as a whole in any of the solutions... or, if you will, we tend to call them 'network users', not, say 'network citizens'. (Heck, few ever refer to them as 'people', they're just faceless 'users'.)

    'Citizen' suggests a level of responsiblity and participation within the overall process that is not currently possible because they have been insulated from almost all useful feedback about the results of their own behaviors, so they cannot learn/adapt/take responsibility on their own. So various people (techies, businesses, governments) try to help do it for them. Empowering the people doesn't work because without the feedback they can't learn how to treat the extra power to get along with each other. Charging the people more doesn't work because without feedback people can't easily tell if they're getting what they're paying for. Adding more laws doesn't work, because without feedback people can't tell what they're doing at all, never mind if they're doing something wrong.

    As such, I find most of the suggestions from various talking-heads well-meaning but tiresome.
  • Re:Nationilze? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Explodicle (818405) on Saturday July 01, 2006 @10:13AM (#15642542) Homepage
    An interesting idea, but...
    • The big telcos already have their fingers in Washington's pockets. If net neutrality is to fail in congress, what make you think net socialism would ever pass?
    • The government has little incentive to keep up with customer demands, since we HAVE to pay taxes. Some broadband companies (admittedly not all) have to compete with another provider.
    • How sure can we be that our internet usage wouldn't be monitored to catch terrorists/communists/pedophiles/witches? A private company can still be forced to keep and release records, but that's much harder for Big Brother to get away with than keeping records of its own service.
    Not to say that your idea isn't good... I would love it if I got "free" broadband anywhere in the country, and would gladly pay the taxes.
  • Re:Nationilze? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Yez70 (924200) on Saturday July 01, 2006 @11:18AM (#15642708)
    Yea, the idea has little chance in todays political climate, but America began with a revolution and it's headed for another - so you never know. If more Americans would act like Americans and stop putting up with the corporate control of the government things could start changing for it's citizens. Until then, count on the only things that matter are the corporate entities and their lobbies.

    We don't matter anymore.

    Viva la revolucion! :D
  • Billable Events (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Restil (31903) on Saturday July 01, 2006 @11:49AM (#15642784) Homepage
    The reason ISPs don't generally want you to share your connection with the rest of the world, or even the rest of your neighborhood, comes down to two things. First off, they charge you a residential rate at a certain speed with the expectation that the average consumer will use an average small fraction of that actual capacity. You may have 4mbps of downstream, but the average consumer won't use all of it, and in most cases, won't even get close. This means they can actually offer you 4mbps and you'll have it available for those brief moments when you want to download that huge file quickly.

    Once you start sharing your connection outside of your household, you increase the average bandwidth that gets used for your connection. Granted, on a case by case basis, this doesn't amount to much, but if they allowed it for one, they'd have to allow it for everyone, and eventually that would cut into their bottom line. Many ISPs DO allow to to purchase a resellable connection, where you can hook as many computers up as you like and you can, well, resell the bandwidth to your neighbors, if you want. You'll also pay at least 5 times as much for the privelage, or so has been my experience. The porch light analogy doesn't work either. That would be the equivalent of me downloading an email, saving it to my network, then having someone via wifi access that saved email, which the isp would certainly be ok with. The porch light doesn't use more electricity if someone else is utilizing the glow, but someone sharing your wifi connection does use more bandwidth.

    The second issue is one of liability. With a simple "your connection, your responsibility" system, any problems are your problems. If someone using your wifi creates a problem, the isp doesn't want to have to expend resources determining who's at fault, nor do they want to get involved in determining who's legally responsible should law enforcement ever get involved. It's much easier to just say, it's THAT house right there, go get them. If they ALLOWED you to share your connection with the world, then they'd be put in the uncomfortable position of having to help determine the exact source of the issue.

    As for co-oping a neighborhood, good luck with that. I've made inquiries in the past for such a project, and people are generally not interested. They MIGHT be interested after the service is already in place, but as long as there is any type of broadband available, you'll be unlikely to find more than a small handful of willing participants, and certainly even fewer willing to pony up any money in advance. It's one thing if there is NO broadband available and there's enough people in the community who want it, you could be reasonably assured of a return on your investment. But the installation is an unrecoverable cost. You'll spend a small fortune putting in the lines, and networking the neighborhood, and just hope you bring in enough revenue to cover the costs of the loan payments, let alone pay someone to stay on call 24/7 to fix physical problems with the network and field calls from morons who can't figure out how to get their email. You'll need at least $3000-4000 a month in revenue just to cover the operating expenses, over and above whatever the upstream provider will charge, which is not likely to be cheap, especially if you're expecting to use the capacity of that fiber.

    I'm not saying it's a bad plan, overall. In the long run, it has a reasonably good chance of success. But, as with any business, there's also a reasonably good chance of fantastic and dramatic failure. You'll want to offer more than just basic internet service though. You'll need a full range of extras. Integrated VOIP, a license to offer streaming TV channels, perhaps a blanket agreement to the RIAA & MPAA to distribute digital music freely within the confines of the neighborhood.... legally, SOMETHING that would give you an upper edge over any local competing provider, besides just speed, because, lets face it, the guy who just checks his email won't really care about that anyway.

  • Wake up to WiMAX (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Darth Cider (320236) on Saturday July 01, 2006 @11:49AM (#15642789)
    Slashdot has carried very little news on the deluge of WiMax products announced this year, which make Cringely's article look behind the times by at least 5 years. Normally, he's the first to advocate wireless, so I'm puzzled why he'd pitch this idea now. He ought to look into the spectrum federally allocated to schools, which the schools unwisely license to telcos, and how combined with WiMAX that spectrum could truly liberate communities, without a trip to the bank.

    Dailywireless.org [dailywireless.org] is the best source for WiMAX news. Every day is an eye-opener. Sometimes every hour.

2 pints = 1 Cavort