(Or: Fuck the flying car, where’s my insanely high-speed internet?)
I was listening to a Patton Oswalt album the other day, and he had a bit about how comic books/movies often have alternate timelines and how he thinks that Bush’s election in 2000 was a point of divergence, and somewhere there’s a reality where Gore is president and the twin towers still stand. I’d like to think him right, but no, the point of divergance was much earlier than that. In 1996 a Republican Congress passed, and the Democrat Bill Clinton signed, the Telecommunications Act of 1996.
This Act gave telecoms (in form of surcharges and tax write-offs) two hundred billion dollars (that’s $200,000,000,000,) in exchange for, well, nothing. I mean, nothing aside from laws that made consolidation easier for them. It was supposed to go to things like providing us with fancy-shmancy shit like video-phones that popped up calls on our TVs with a connection as fluid as the show we were watching previously. I don’t know about the World Trade Center standing, but by 2008 we should be able to buy iTouch-like handsets for a hundred bucks and freely access a government maintained nationwide whitespace wifi network to call up anyone we want, anywhere, for free. In fact, bandwidth should be so cheap that we should be able to backup our HDD with no hassle and redownload anything we’ve previously owned with little/no trouble. So, why aren’t we there yet? This is something that’s always bothered me, and on a lark, I decided to look up the Act to see if I was the only one. Y’know who else thought so? A name I’d not heard in a long time. Robert X. Cringely.
He wrote a few articles about it late last year, and if you, like me, missed it, I heartily recommend reading them and taking a moment to ponder exactly what we could do with faster pipes. … Mind boggling, isn’t it? Even aside from the obvious “better porn,” both teleconferencing and working from home would be gimmes. Streaming HD content would be so easy, cable companies wouldn’t be able to get away with ruining HD channels “just because.” They also wouldn’t be able to shape traffic with such a heavy hand. And video conferencing in your living room with friends from all over the world would be seamless, as it’s not too far from it already. Of course the kicker is, before Cringely wrote those articles, that he also wrote the solution. We really need to take the last mile away from these companies. He also talks about our nation’s lack of a broadband policy and our leaders not recognizing that the internet is fast becoming infrastructure every bit as important as roads, telephones, and power, and how that’s leaving us languishing on the world scene. He’s right on every account, and it’s scary.
But being a man, and a gamer, I like puzzles, so, I’ve got a solution:
I’m calling it either “The Power Pipeline.” My plan is designed for middle-sized growing cities, but is scalable to more urban environments as well. Everyone but the most rural American should have join the nation in becoming not only world leaders in internet connectivity and capacity. We already run pipes around the nation for various reasons, most notably power (where we also use unsightly powerlines,) so I suggest an entirely new system like sewers, many feet in diameter, going from city to city, connecting America. In each city you run them to a main facilty where smaller pipes are ran across the city, along every main road and every business district, and eventually every home as well. Require them in newer areas of town, and allow older areas to buy in. What’s in the pipes? Well, first, electricity. Use the pipes to provide energy to street lights and red lights without powerlines everywhere. Also, data lines to provide internet access and phone lines. Now, how is this different than what we currently do? We need a system that’s ideally both cost effective and will last, so it’s key to allow for upgradability. So, every so-often, at ‘server relay stations’ (or whatever you want to call them,) allow access to the tunnels so that old cables can be snaked out and new cables snaked in. As technology evolves, so can the Pipelines.
Paying for this monstrosity? Finance it in large part by prospective internet providers “buying in” on lines laid down (if they want to use these new highspeed lines,) and also with a surcharge on people’s bills who are using the service, as they’ll own the line where it enters their property (much how homeowners own phone and powerlines once they hit owner property. Cringley called it at $1500 per person, for each person ‘owning their own last mile.’ Given that was only a year ago, and the dollar’s down, it may be a bit more… But I think it’s worth it for a public works project of this magnitude. They say “Good, fast, cheap: choose two.” I choose good and cheap, but I really hope we can get a proof of concept up and running in middle America within three years of the The Power Pipeline Bill passing. Why? Well, if not, my chances for reelection are shot. Yeah, that’s right, reelection. Yes, I’m running.
Just wait until I tell you about my idea for a ‘Water Pipeline’ to cure drought across the nation that I devised while playing Pipe Mania.