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Own the Last Mile

Zonk posted more than 8 years ago | from the get-the-last-word dept.


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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cream skimming (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15642124)

Robert X. Cringley, i have one word for you: Cream skimming.

Re:cream skimming (5, Funny)

noidentity (188756) | more than 8 years ago | (#15642166)

I have one word for you: that's two words.

Re:cream skimming (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15642255)

I have three words for you: That's three words, idiot.

Re:cream skimming (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15642580)


Re:cream skimming (1, Redundant)

Xyrus (755017) | more than 8 years ago | (#15642234)

Thanks for that idea Mr. Cringley. Now let me tell you how it would work in the real world.

The telecos would quickly pay for laws and regulations that would prevent people from creating a last mile infrastructure. As an example, look at how the telecos are preventing municipal ISPs and other "community" networks.

You see, it's not that the telecos "need" incentives. They have plenty. They just want to milk every single dollar from both government and consumer. This is similar to how the oil companies operate ( we made x billion dollars last year, but we just can't afford to build any more refineries without government money).

Besides, with the whole tiered internet thinking the telecos have been pushing lately is there really any doubt that they have anything but greed on their minds?


Think of the Children! (2, Insightful)

Morosoph (693565) | more than 8 years ago | (#15642249)

If this last mile is how one gets out of the "tiered internet", it presumably means that one gets out of ISP censorship. Government might (in effect) block this initiative, therefore, by requiring anything approximating an ISP to perform basic censorship, wiretapping, etc. to the extent that only a large, established ISP can provide.

I expect that you'll find large ISPs ever-keener to "work with government" to address "common concerns" (as opposed to say real, quantifiable risks) if this took off.

Re:Think of the Children! (2, Funny)

Lehk228 (705449) | more than 8 years ago | (#15642409)

the government can go upstream if they want to wiretap

Fellow travelers (1)

doodleboy (263186) | more than 8 years ago | (#15642295)

I found Bob Frankston's argument in Cringely's column interesting:
The problem, to Bob's way of thinking, isn't the Internet per se, but the direction powerful political and business forces are attempting to take it. Part of this can be seen in last week's column on Net Neutrality, but Bob takes it further - a LOT further - to a point where it becomes logically clear that making almost any regulation specifically to hinder OR HELP the Internet can only make things worse. And by making it worse I mean inhibit in a severe way the growth of human knowledge, culture, and economic development. It's just a choice between freedom and totalitarianism, simple as that. To Bob the issues surrounding Net Neutrality come down to billability and infrastructure. While saying they are doing us favors, ISPs are really offering us services they can bill for. Nothing is aimed at helping us, while everything is aimed at creating a billable event.
Bob's argument is that we should treat the internet like any other basic service, like water and electricity. But that is obviously not the direction we're headed in. Now consider this quote from Wendy Grossman's of Vernor Vinge's "Rainbow's End, a dystopia extrapolated from current trends: []
Vinge makes two opening assumptions: no grand physical disaster occurs, and today's computing and communications trends continue. He added a third trend: "The great conspiracy against human freedom." As novelist Doris Lessing has observed, barons on opposite sides of the river don't need to be in cahoots if their interests coincide. In our case, defence, homeland security, financial crime enforcement, police, tax collectors and intellectual property rights holders offer reasons to want to control the hardware we use.

Re:cream skimming (2, Informative)

alshithead (981606) | more than 8 years ago | (#15642603)

They might let you do it. "Sure, you five neighborhoods here can run all of your own cables, build your own infrastructure, but before you connect to *Bell, Verizon, Comcast...whatever, we're going to require site inspections by our people to make sure everything is done correctly and poses no danger to our equipment/network." Of course, those site inspections will be very, very expensive.

wireless (5, Informative)

gosub770 (884067) | more than 8 years ago | (#15642126)

Why not set up a comminity wireless network or check if your neighbour already has []

Re:wireless (4, Interesting)

NeilTheStupidHead (963719) | more than 8 years ago | (#15642163)

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.

Re:wireless (3, Insightful)

ozmanjusri (601766) | more than 8 years ago | (#15642239)

The problem is...

Those are not the real barriers to adoption of freenets in the real world. If you look at projects like WA Freenet [] , you can see the infrastructure here is being built by a handful of enthusiasts. If there was a coordinated effort by local governments, the network would be complete by now.

The key problem is that such a network, allowing things like VOIP and video streaming, would cut the legs out from under existing telcos and media groups. It would make a decentralised network which is unaccountable and uncontrollable (by the government). In Australia, common carrier laws are being used to stop the freenets from connecting to the bigger internet. If a workaround is found for that, another barrier will be put in place.

Re:wireless (1)

tsm_sf (545316) | more than 8 years ago | (#15642644)

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.

That sounds like utter bullshit. Have any proof?

Re:wireless (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15642415)


a) I want more bandwidth (100Mb really dedicated per computer)
b) I want more reliability (no possibility of someone grabbing my frequency)
c) I want less visibility (my network is my business; when I use it is my information)
d) I already have Cat6 cables in place to both of my neighbors

BTW. This is not to say that wireless won't solve your last mile problem well enough. It's just to say we need a combined strategy.

Now what I really need is a way to link up with other people who would be interested in connecting up in my area. Could anyone set up (or recommend) a good community site to do this which would be able to cover the whole world?

Re:wireless (1)

theLOUDroom (556455) | more than 8 years ago | (#15642493)

Why not set up a comminity wireless network or check if your neighbour already has []

Because it's impossible for you guarantee service.
If my neighbor buys a cordless phone that knocks out my wifi connection, legally I can't do squat.

Now if you're talking about liscensed wireless you run into a whole other set of problemss. (Like the cost of liscenses and limited hardware availibility.)

Re:wireless (1)

dnoyeb (547705) | more than 8 years ago | (#15642642)

I was under the impression that unlicensed devices are not allowed to interfere with any other device even if that device is not RF based. You are not allowed to jam your neighbor, but certainly your neighbor is in violation of FCC regulations.

Wireless works great and is constantly improving. (1)

dbdweeb (598548) | more than 8 years ago | (#15642516)

If wireless works then it seems kinda dumb to be digging up earth and laying cable all over the place. Wireless works quite well for me thank you very much. I live in rural Montana outside of town. There is no DSL or cable where I live so I get 125Mb wireless from a tower 20 miles away. The service is great with an always on static IP and the cost is reasonable for our area. Before this my only alternative was dial up and it sucked. I have a Linux SysAdmin/DBA job in town and am on-call for supporting computers spread around 3 continents. Even without GUI stuff dialup to the VPN sucked so sometimes I'd just drive into town. Now I connect via broadband and I'm a happy camper in the country. C'mon G3. We need more energy spent on improving wireless and making it ubiquitous. The last thing we need is political interference.

May all your problems be only technical.

Re:Wireless works great and is constantly improvin (1)

Professor_UNIX (867045) | more than 8 years ago | (#15642666)

Err, right, but not all of us live in the middle of nowhere where we have a 20 mile line of site to a wireless communications tower. I've got trees, houses, even large buildings and hills between me and major communications centers. I'd need to construct a 90 foot tower in my back yard to clear all these obstacles... I don't think my homeowners' association would approve of that hillbilly broadband tactic.

Re:Wireless works great and is constantly improvin (1)

dbdweeb (598548) | more than 8 years ago | (#15642744)

Well I live in hilly, tree country too but it can be done. Where there's a will there's a way. The first time I tried for wireless I was in a hill shadow behind a tower only 2 miles away. Now there are lots of towers. I've gone looking for them and have had a hard time seeing them as they are discreetly placed. There are some houses strategically located on a ridge with a view to town. Before the commercial wireless solution became available I was thinking about establishing a T1 in town and approaching a neighbor to create a network of community access point. If someone is not very community minded they could be enticed with free broadband. Even in metropolitan areas antenae can be discreetly placed on house tops. The day is coming when there will be no wire and very little fiber to the home. It's mostly a matter of will and politics not technological constraints.

How would Cringely's model work? (2, Insightful)

jkrise (535370) | more than 8 years ago | (#15642132)

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...

Despite the availability of Free software -- both as in beer, and in freedom... the software marketplace remains skewed in favour of corporate giants, patent trolls etc. 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? Can't see this model working on either side of the equation...

Re:How would Cringely's model work? (1)

70Bang (805280) | more than 8 years ago | (#15642192)

Step back from software & the 20th & 21st centuries, look at what continues to be a constant discussion: privatization of the postal system - sell it out and let the gov't deal with the last mile.

It hasn't happened there despite the most Herculean efforts of the biggest checkbooks.

Why do you think it'll change with a lot of glass & copper?

Re:How would Cringely's model work? (5, Interesting)

hey! (33014) | more than 8 years ago | (#15642206)

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.

Re:How would Cringely's model work? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15642316)

I'm not sure I buy this as feasible. How exactly would this public infrastructure be built for everyone without the large telco lobbyists stepping in? Assuming this would be set up by the government all it would take is the lobbying power of these telcos to figure out what's happening and throw money at the problem. "Stop building this infrastructure and we'll give you the money and votes to get re-elected or we'll give it to your competitor who is with us".

The real problem with America is lobbyists - drive them off a cliff, not lawyers.

Re:How would Cringely's model work? (1)

slughead (592713) | more than 8 years ago | (#15642374)

A public broadband infrastructure would lower the barriers to entry in service.

With the obvious exception of AT&T, most telcos oppose wiretapping. With this infastructure being owned by the government already, there's not even that whole "liability barrier" to privacy invasion. Can't sue the government without the government's permission, remember? The Supreme Court decided that a long time ago.

That's not to mention how new infastructure is totally fouled up by government about 30% of the time. The "big dig" in Boston is a good example, not to mention the "Light Rail" debacle in Phoenix (& metro area).

You think your current service is unreliable? Imagine 5 years from now when all the new fibre needs to be replaced and the Government's already spent all the tax dollars set aside for it.

What about the pricing issue? Recently here in Phoenix, both Cox and Qwest started being available in many areas. I get a Megabit upstream and downstream for $35/month without a telephone or a television from Qwest. Cox sent me a letter a few days ago telling me I could get 6MBps down/512k up for $40/mo, $0 installation cost and a free cable modem with 90 days minimum agreement. Before very recently, Cox hadn't upgraded their service in literally years. Qwest had crappy deals on DSL and was mainly for people who didn't have internet in some areas.

When's the last time the price of water/sanitation went down?

And for God's sake, don't mention subsidies. "Prices will be lower if we subsidize!".. yeah, prices will be lower on the bill sent to your house, but your yearly bill from the government will be higher.

Re:How would Cringely's model work? (2, Insightful)

electroniceric (468976) | more than 8 years ago | (#15642640)

Imagine 5 years from now when all the new fibre needs to be replaced and the Government's already spent all the tax dollars set aside for it.
Though I suspect from the tone of your post that we disagree on most things government, I happen to agree with you on this one. I just came from a presentation last Wednesday from the American Society of Civil Engineers about the state of our roads, and it is ugly. Like bridges near collapse ugly. Same for sewer and water systems, navigable waterways, dams, railroads and many other public infrastructure items. The ASCE has a simple solution to that - raise gas taxes, but people presently don't like taxes. Or more precisely they don't have confidence that taxes will go to the specific priorities they approved. This while real estate developers essentially rely on free roads, sewers, power lines for their margins on exurban development, and while the increase in miles driven has vastly outstripped the increase in population. Americans are overconsuming roads because the marginal cost of roads to them is a whopping $0.00, and at the same time building up vast deferred maintenance costs. Just like with software development, people like the upfront parts and don't enjoy the maintenance phase. And every time someone builds a new set of houses in a subdivision, they are bringing new obligations to municipalities,counties, states, and the federal government. Unless there's a big shift in the political climate I'm apt to believe that people will not want a new tax to pay for all the routers than need to be upgraded in 5 years, and this will be one more item of infrastructure that sits crumbling under the weight of demands to build yet more new infrastructure.

This leaves me in a bit of a bind, because I have long believed that Cringely and his friend are right - the main problem with American telecom service is that telcos have a government enforced, infrastructure-based monopoly on the last mile. So as Cringely points out, this makes telcos gatekeepers rather than bidders to provide service. Really what's happened is that telcos have steadily chipped away at their part of the bargain struck with government: we'll give you a monopoly in return for regulating your rates and service and you giving service to everybody (which is now passed on to consumer as an add-on fee). Cringely is right that private capital will not be interested in building freely available infrastructure, so I'd say that part does merit co-op or public investment to create it. What we need to do is let people compete to run that infrastructure, making sure to cultivate competition. That means overruling the telcos and specifically allowing all kinds of different ways to providing access and bandwidth: copper pair, power lines, wireless, ultrasound through water pipes, etc. With luck this will result in a durable competitive market for access as well as bandwidth, without adding yet one more item to the long list of infrastructure improvements the government and taxpayers have deferred.

Re:How would Cringely's model work? (2, Interesting)

Diamondback (111383) | more than 8 years ago | (#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.

Re:How would Cringely's model work? (1)

Pyrowolf (877012) | more than 8 years ago | (#15642628)

Could you elaborate on your experience? I'd be very interested to hear more.

Re:How would Cringely's model work? (1)

SupraTT GOP (825665) | more than 8 years ago | (#15642695)

I would also love to hear of the experience. Would be very helpful indeed!

Re:How would Cringely's model work? (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15642505)

There are so many errors in this model, it's hard to pick a place to start (but I'll try):

"run Fiber To The Home (FTTH) and pay for it as a community of customers -- a cooperative."

Reminds me of a marketing manager who specified he needed "1 fiber optic strand" because he wanted his department's LAN to be fiber-based. There are numerous standards and approaches here, especially when you assume switching at the block level which is the only way to reduce the cost somewhat (rather than carrying each strand back to the central office which would be more than $50K per mile in metro areas, $20K/mile rural).

The cost per fiber drop, according to Bill's estimate, is $1,000-$1,500 if 40 percent of homes participate.

That's what you put in the marketing plan. The reality is around $2500 to $3500 per subscriber.

Using the higher $1,500 figure, the cost to finance the system over 10 years at today's prime rate would be $17.42 per month.

You don't use prime as your hurdle (or "weighted average cost of capital" as the finance types would say). Prime is an interest rate for investments/loans that has little risk. Even though you could have a municipality promoting this financing via bonds, they'll certainly be tied to service revenue and correlate with the speculative FTTP venture. I'd use 3% or 4% over the risk-free rate (e.g. 90-day T-bill) at a minimum. The "higher" $1500 figure isn't accurate in any model I've seen that actually got constructed, and does not include switching center and central office systems, consultant fees (not cheap - several million for a community project and necessary to structure and raise the debt) and a whole slew of other costs.

A model that went forward recently in our part of the central US had: $10 million in RUS low-interest debt at 7% (low-interest respective to high default risk), plus a revenue assumption that they would recover cashflows of $28 per subscriber over 10 years, with 80% market penetration required, in a community with 12,000 households and a healthy commercial and industrial base heavily subsidizing it with service premiums (they assumed the businesses would pay much more than alternatives because they could have telecommuters across the faster local fiber network than generic Internet transport). That's $2400 per subscriber, assuming an unrealistic 80% penetration and business subsidy via overpaying for service. Throw that out and you're definitely in the $2500 to $3500 range, on an estimated 9,600 subscribers.

Other problems include consultants that are the low bidders, only to discover they have an agenda which includes selecting specific hardware and protocols only their ISP "friends" use and using other methods to lock in only a select few ISPs. In one case we dealt with, the consultants required that ISPs wanting to serve a FTTP small town in the midwest to lease DS3s to California, then pay an inflated rate to share an OC3 leased back to the midwest. We had DS3s just down the road 8 miles from the town but would have to go to LA and back (never mind latency) to serve the town. Unfortunately these projects have to obtain these consultants because they can't float any bonds without demonstrating some competence in the plan.

Add to that the law enforcement demands for network surveillance capability and the whole slew of engineering, support, provisioning, billing, etc. overhead and you're left with a business model that unfortunately will only be serviced by large national companies.

What we'd get for our $17.42 per month is a gigabit-capable circuit with no bits inside - just a really fast connection to some local point of presence where you could connect to ANY ISP wanting to operate in your city.

Re:How would Cringely's model work? (1)

NexFlamma (919608) | more than 8 years ago | (#15642257)

You're right.

One of the major problems of the economics of tech (more specifically, internet connectivity) is that so few people are as technologically informed as we are.

To that end, I propose that we take a page out of the 60's and create Tech Communes. Why don't we buy up acres of farmland where we could go live by our ideals of shared wireless, free clock cycles and pr0n for everyone?

Besides, it's not like geeks bathe a lot more than hippies do anyway...

Re:How would Cringely's model work? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15642546)

Uh oh ... someone needs to take a 2nd grade class in reading comprehension.

Re:How would Cringely's model work? (1)

larytet (859336) | more than 8 years ago | (#15642717)

in Canada they have non-profit organization which promises broadband Internet access for every house in the country.

People can start to establish such cos. Managers of the non-profit organizations can get pretty nice pay check. Means that professionals can be and probably should be hired. Technically this is not a problem to be a small ISP for 10s or 100s households.

Mesh (2, Interesting)

paganizer (566360) | more than 8 years ago | (#15642134)

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.

Re:Mesh (1)

TubeSteak (669689) | more than 8 years ago | (#15642232)

I'm probably not getting some subtle nuance, but do not the various wireless nationwide mesh projects pretty much make this a non-issue?
No, they don't.

Mesh networks, at best, only spread the cost around.

Someone is still tied into the "last mile"

The main problem with re-doing the last mile is getting permission to lay fiber, copper, or whatever. There's a stack of legal hassle & the cable/telco wankers will fight you like hell.

Oh, and 'the market' frowns on duplication of resources, meaning that consumers are going to have to eat the up-front costs... unless Cringley's fantasy of "One billion dollars each in seed capital from Microsoft, AOl, Yahoo and Google" comes through.

The cost per fiber drop, according to Bill's estimate, is $1,000-$1,500 if 40 percent of homes participate. Using the higher $1,500 figure, the cost to finance the system over 10 years at today's prime rate would be $17.42 per month.
Today's prime rate is 8.25%
I'll leave it to someone else to work out the math

Re:Mesh (2, Informative)

tomhudson (43916) | more than 8 years ago | (#15642321)

Today's prime rate is 8.25%

And 10-year municipal bonds are currently 5.125% - which is the rate this would actually be financed at. []

Monthly payments over 10 years of $16/month on initial capital of $1,500.,1456 ,603156,00.html []

Re:Mesh (1)

TubeSteak (669689) | more than 8 years ago | (#15642414)

But Cringley isn't suggesting that this be done on the municipal scale
(and even if he was, the cable/telcos have sued in the past to prevent it)
which is why he went with the prime rate & not the lower municipal bond rate,
as he envisions consumer collectives doing this, not the city/town.

Maybe someone can explain exactly what $1,500 buys you in terms of "fiber drop"

Re:Mesh (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15642624)

And 10-year municipal bonds are currently 5.125% - which is the rate this would actually be financed at.

And a 1-year T-bill with essentially zero default risk (and the same interest rate risk) is 5.24%...

Financing at your general obligation muni rate is unlikely for speculative muni projects, especially when they'll be structured as revenue bonds. A good explanation of the difference can be found here [] - pay special attention to the Risk section.

Indeed, the interest income/tax considerations will lower the bond's nominal rate for investors that can take advantage of the tax exemption. However, changes in the tax code have also reduced the opportunity for tax benefit (e.g. alternative minimum income tax impact) and munis that have any risk associated with them are increasingly viewed as undesirable investment instruments.

Given the current market condition for bonds, a municipality that attempts to float revenue bonds for speculative FTTP ventures without a serious default and interest rate risk premium is only going to find local investors that see the purchase as a non-investment "contribution to a good cause." In this case, either support the project with local gifts or pursue payment through local usage fees - don't expect outsiders to gift funds for your muni project (without serious political contribution gifts for earmarks!).

Never forget that investors have alternatives for their money, and they expect more return for more risk.

True Solution (1)

spykemail (983593) | more than 8 years ago | (#15642146)

This is the true solution that I didn't think anyone was actually considering. Community wireless is not the answer, it's plagued by many problems, not the least of which being that it's wireless. The internet is a huge international resource, I never understood why a few monopoly-prone corporations were put in charge of those last few miles anyway. It makes little, almost no sense that someone can be a few miles from the internet backbone and be completely subject to a monopolie's whim as to whether or not they can access it.

I'm extremely curious to see what Google does as an ISP, even though they'll only be a local one. I almost think they might be doing it to put themselves in a position to fight legal battles in favor of Google users, though that might be hoping too much even for Google.

Re:True Solution (5, Insightful)

ScentCone (795499) | more than 8 years ago | (#15642169)

The internet is a huge international resource, I never understood why a few monopoly-prone corporations were put in charge of those last few miles anyway

The internet is a collection of networks. "It" doesn't exist, per se. We only see it as a system because it behaves as one - but it's not like it's some natural resource that copper providers are keeping us from.

In most cases, the companies that have copper (telephone lines for dial-up or DSL, or coaxial cable for TV) were doing that before broadband to your house was even a consideration. They weren't "put in charge" of the last few miles, they invested a ton of money to string up untold miles of cable all over the place so that they could, over the long term, make money by charging people to use what they'd just spent that money installing. Hauling data over that same infrastucture came later, usually long after some areas were already wired up.

Now, I live in a 20-yeard old neighborhood, and I've got my choice of two cable providers, two telcos, and now a fiber provider. They've all pulled their own buried conduis through the area, and will drop off their service right at the wall of my house. They're competing viciously for my bundled bandwith/cable/phone dollars. I haven't really even bothered to evaluate the wireless options since that's less appealing to me.

But the main thing is that your local telco and cable weren't put in charge of your internet connection - they were the ones that already had the infrastructure in place. A completely new pipe to your house, provided by someone else (including yourself) is very, very expensive - you need trucks, utility permits, labor, materials, and something to plug it all into. The math rarely makes sense unless you know you're making a long-term committment. Phone companies figure they are, since even if you move away, the odds are good that the next person at that address will also want the same service. That stability is what made it worth their investment to put that copper there in the first place - and it usually takes years and years of your paying the phone bill to offset what they paid to put it there.

Re:True Solution (4, Insightful)

Znork (31774) | more than 8 years ago | (#15642243)

"A completely new pipe to your house, provided by someone else (including yourself) is very, very expensive"

Yet we manage to accomplish more or less exactly the same thing with road infrastructure, without having five companies running their own roads to every house, then charging the house owners for access.

It's not that hard to design a system after that model, with specific interchange points on a local level.

Re:True Solution (1)

Ulrich Hobelmann (861309) | more than 8 years ago | (#15642272)

Well, if roads were private, new houses would be built along with roads leading to them, and with cables in them. Then you could choose a road maintainer or a cable maintainer of your choice, and buy service from whoever wants to give it to you.

With existing roads things are different. Not sure about the regulations, but of course opening up the street to lay cable is expensive too (but might well be worth it in the long term; maybe sometime someone will found a service company after Cringely's model; charging mostly for maintenance on a flat monthly fee, but allowing you to buy actual service elsewhere).

And agreed: interchange points, where networks are routed together, will lower costs tremendously too (so everybody need only pay the short length of their road). The key is that ownership of the connection isn't delegated to one telco/ISP, but to the road owner. Every service and maintenance can cheaply be "outsourced".

Re:True Solution (1)

Oligonicella (659917) | more than 8 years ago | (#15642550)

Bogus, bogus, bogus. Roads (local,state,inter) are typically not private. Those that are (like I70 in Kansas) have methods the owners use to recoup money -- tolls.

So -- oh Slahsdotters who think that gov ownership is tyranny -- what you want is for the local/state/fed government to own the infrastructure?

I'd like to see the crowd response to that one.

Re:True Solution (1)

ScentCone (795499) | more than 8 years ago | (#15642600)

So -- oh Slahsdotters who think that gov ownership is tyranny -- what you want is for the local/state/fed government to own the infrastructure?

No, they want to it be "free" (as in beer), since like so many other tax-payer funded things, the successful actually pay most of the taxes.

But ignoring the issue of who would actually be picking up the tab, the real issue is that once your pipe becomes a part of the local government infrastructure, your use of the pipe is that much more at the mercy of local "community standards," etc. Meaning, scaredy soccer-moms will be that much more able to insist on government monitoring and filtering of what travels those pipes - especially the last mile of it.

Re:True Solution (1)

westlake (615356) | more than 8 years ago | (#15642366)

I never understood why a few monopoly-prone corporations were put in charge of those last few miles anyway.

Bell Telephone began wiring our village around 1880-1885.

The "backbone" then and now is about sixty-five miles to the south, following the route of the Erie Canal and the road and rail corridor between New York and Chicago.

Re:True Solution (1)

Oligonicella (659917) | more than 8 years ago | (#15642504)

"I never understood why a few monopoly-prone corporations were put in charge of those last few miles anyway."

They're not. Get out your shovel, deal with the neighbors and utilities and road commission and just lay your own? Or, perhaps, what you really want is for those who have invested their dime to let you have their services free or discounted? Hmm.

Great Idea in Theory (4, Insightful)

A_Mythago (204246) | more than 8 years ago | (#15642153)

As optimist as this article is (and adds a nice bashing of Microsoft that should please this crowd), it fails to take in account the other side of the telecomms strategy for "metering the internet". There has been a legislative push to throw so many roadblocks against municipal broadband projects at both the state and federal level, often citing "anticompetive environment" as a justification against them.
Considering the virtual monopoly positions held by most providers in their areas of services, it is apparent they have seen the potential (and threat) of municipal broadband projects to their mid and long term plans for the internet.
"Owning the last mile" is a beautiful vision and expresses the American dream in the digital age...unless you they have already outlawed it in your area.

Re:Great Idea in Theory (1)

Lonewolf666 (259450) | more than 8 years ago | (#15642195)

Maybe a community project just needs another form of organization? If interested users form a "Local Infrastructure Corporation", I guess the laws against municipal broadband projects might not apply.
Of course, an important difference would be that the "Local Infrastructure Corporation" cannot force anyone to join, so you would have to convince enough interested people to make the undertaking commercially viable.

Re:Great Idea in Theory (4, Insightful)

Jeff DeMaagd (2015) | more than 8 years ago | (#15642200)

"Owning the last mile" is a beautiful vision and expresses the American dream in the digital age...unless you they have already outlawed it in your area.

Please state where it is illegal to set up a new commercial ISP. I don't think you need an ISP owned by the local government, which is really what telco & cableco fought against. They didn't outlaw commercial internet services. You can try competing against them as an actual business not funded by the local government, which is probably a better way to go anyway.

The real problem (4, Interesting)

Kazrael (918535) | more than 8 years ago | (#15642159)

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:The real problem (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15642183)

We're not talking about wiring Africa - there's plenty of dark fiber in the ground already.

Re:The real problem (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15642288)

i guess you never been to Texas, it is a BIG state, try driving from El Paso to Texarkanna, or from Houston to Amarillo...

Re:The real problem (5, Informative)

denormaleyes (36953) | more than 8 years ago | (#15642204)

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?

As to the inter-city hauls, those are already available at decent rates once you get your local bits to a nearby POP.

Sayeth the Cringe (I RTFA):

Of course you'd still have to buy Internet service, but at NerdTV rates the amount of bandwidth used by a median U.S. broadband customer would be less than $2.00 per month.

The whole point of the article is that by doing the expensive (relative to a consumers monthly ISP bill) last mile infrastructure ourselves, we avoid the rent seeking behaviors of the current last mile owners who are more in the business of monthly billing events than transporting packets. If you pay $50 a month for broadband and the part of that service between your local POP and the rest of the world currently runs about $2 per month, what exactly do you get for that other $48 per month? Email service? Blocked server ports? The ability to get a less comprimised QoS by paying more?

Cringe thinks we could, over a 10 year period, finance fiber to your door with crazy local bandwdith (basically free) and cheap metered Internet service (for what you use today, not necessarily what you might use when you can do BitTorrent at 100Mbit/s symetrical) for about $20 per month if you and your neighbors worked collectively. At that point, ISPs and TV providers would be more likely to beat a path to your "last mile" door since the really really expensive part was already built by someone else (you) who doesn't discriminate against them like the Bells would against CLECs.

Re:The real problem (3, Informative)

Jeff DeMaagd (2015) | more than 8 years ago | (#15642210)

Who is going to pay the million bucks to get the wiring from the DFW area to Austin?

I thought this is about the last mile, not the backbone. You can tie into the the internet without having to make your own connections between two major cities.

Re:The real problem (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15642259)

Perhaps I missed something, but wouldn't the road metaphor indicate the same folks who paid for the interstates?
Along the same lines, it's interesting to note that the large interstate roadways don't let you drive faster if you pay more.
The only thing that I wondered about was the comment about "some perceived scarcity of spectrum"... Perahps I don't understand, but to my knowledge the laws of physics only allow a certain number of signals to be readable on any given one frequency, and there are LOTS of folks competing for frequencies all over the radio frequency spectrum. On a related tangent, all frequencies used to be owned by the citizenry. They've gradually become more restricted, and now we've started selling the rights to them to corporations.

Re:The real problem (1)

Kazrael (918535) | more than 8 years ago | (#15642617)

And after a few hours of awake time, along with some asparin for the hangover, I realize I have made a complete jackass out of myself.

My eyes are no longer glazed and I even RTFA.

My bad.

Not quite last mile, but.. (4, Interesting)

Sulka (4250) | more than 8 years ago | (#15642189)

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.

Lets OWN the internet! :) (1)

KarMax (720996) | more than 8 years ago | (#15642194)

Leaving a side some comments about the article...

I like the idea, but its hard to get it done. The "marketplace" of course has the "power" to own the last mile AND also "we can OWN the world" :) (its like the idea "Power to the people").

We are in /. we are geeks, nobody here will say "No!, let the companies own our freedom", of course not. But the average people, In the real world, doesn't give a shit. They pay a regular fee, complain a little about the ISP/telco and still using internet.
Its more easy to pay some money than get organized, with this "internet thing". (for the most it's not a big deal). Some users already get organized and own more than the last mile, building big internet access communities.

Its good if ALL get organized that way we don't care about the companies business and when they does some nasty thing like start limiting bw or restrict the access to some sites or.... OH! wait they already do that!

BrainlessAnarchist: WE MUST GET ORGANIZED NOW AND OWN THE INTERNET!! it is ours...
In fact, if we build the biggest network ever, it could be a way to give internet access, but then when everybody is on that new wide access network, we will be the ones who internet is connected to... and we can charge the companies with a fee for the permission to sell/offer us something.

PS: "changed the world forever with VisiCalc [] " :) come-on

VisiCalc really did change the world (1)

m0llusk (789903) | more than 8 years ago | (#15642324)

PS: "changed the world forever with VisiCalc []" :) come-on

You are too quick to minimize the impact of the introduction of VisiCalc. At the time there was very little serious business software apart from word processing and some basic accounting stuff for accounts payable and receivable that was oriented toward larger businesses. VisiCalc enabled many common calculations and accounting processes to be handled on small personal computers for the first time. This had a dramatic impact on the market for computers and the perception of computers at that time.

Still have to deal with ISPs (2, Insightful)

brendanoconnor (584099) | more than 8 years ago | (#15642201)

While the idea of setting up community networks then buying bandwidth to be shared amongst everyone certainly is appealing to many of us, there are many more people that just wouldn't be interesting. Not to mention, it would be a brutal fight with the incumbent telcos and cable companies. Even once the network is built in said local community, I am sure the telcos would try and rack up as huge a cost for the higher bandwidth lines just because. Now, this would not be a problem if the government was on our side, but lets face it, demo or repub, they both belong to big business. With most of if not all of our government on company payroll, I find it near impossible for community networks to become the norm and not the extremely rare exception that they are now. I hope I am wrong. Brendan

Re:Still have to deal with ISPs (1)

betterunixthanunix (980855) | more than 8 years ago | (#15642237)

No, the problem with community networks is a manifestation of the public goods and commons problem. If you are your neighbors decide to put together a community WiFi network, who will pay? The higher the bandwidth costs, the more necessary it becomes for each user to contribute their share to the project, but most people will do nothing and just let everybody else pay, then use the network for free. The only real solution is for the local government to pay for the network, simply to ensure it is possible. I believe that municipal wifi should fall under the same category as other public services, like roads and parks. Of course, how many people who already have a cable modem in their home will be willing to pay even slightly higher taxes to support such an effort?

Re:Still have to deal with ISPs (1)

jonored (862908) | more than 8 years ago | (#15642468)

So don't run it that way; run a co-op. That is, have your group of people who get a network set up in some fashion to distribute the purchased bandwidth (I'm actually thinking wireless for this, perhaps with modified wrt54gs-es to bridge to ethernet), and then they purchase portions of some bandwidth source that leads to the internet at large. If someone isn't buying network access, you could even let them access computers on the wireless network, but they don't have a place on the uplink. Of course, I'm not sure of the practicality of such a system.

Re:Still have to deal with ISPs (1)

jonored (862908) | more than 8 years ago | (#15642576)

Well, i should RTFA next time; barring the technology used for that connectivity, this is exactly what the article proposes; use the cooperative model to distribute bandwidth, and then essentially purchase bandwidth "in bulk", at a POP.

Re:Still have to deal with ISPs (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15642453)

While the idea of setting up community networks then buying bandwidth to be shared amongst everyone certainly is appealing to many of us...
There is a step in between what we have now and what you've mentioned. The municipality can own the last mile infrastructure without purchasing bandwidth. The consumer would choose their ISP (being free to pay more for a net-neutral one should they so choose), and the maintainer of the last-mile infrastructure would simply connect the consumer's physical location with their chosen ISPs network.

This would break up the monopoly situation that we're currently facing without resorting to the socialist policy that gets many people upset. by removing the last-mile barrier for entry into the ISP market, we'd see true competition in the broadband space. If broadband were trully as expensive as the telcos say it is, some of the providers would subsidize the consumer end of the deal by charging content providers. Other providers would pass the entire cost on to the consumer. At that point, it would be up to the free market to decide which business model works best.

we'll all be on our own for the 'last mile' (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15642224)

from previous post: many demand corepirate nazi execrable stop abusing US

we the peepoles?

how is it allowed? just like corn passing through a bird's butt eye gas.

all they (the felonious nazi execrable) want is... everything. at what cost to US? not a pretty picture at all. quite infactdead from our viewpoint.

lookout bullow.

for many of US, the only way out is up.

don't forget, for each of the creators' innocents harmed (in any way) there is a debt that must/will be repaid by you/US as the perpetrators/minions of unprecedented evile will not be available after the big flash occurs.

'vote' with (what's left in) yOUR wallet. help bring an end to unprecedented evile's manifestation through yOUR owned felonious corepirate nazi life0cidal glowbull warmongering execrable.

some of US should consider ourselves very fortunate to be among those scheduled to survive after the big flash/implementation of the creators' wwwildly popular planet/population rescue initiative/mandate.

it's right in the manual, 'world without end', etc....

as we all ?know?, change is inevitable, & denying/ignoring gravity, logic, morality, etc..., is only possible, on a temporary basis.

concern about the course of events that will occur should the corepirate nazi life0cidal execrable fail to be intervened upon is in order.

'do not be dismayed' (also from the manual). however, it's ok/recommended, to not attempt to live under/accept, fauxking nazi felon greed/fear/ego based pr ?firm? scriptdead mindphuking hypenosys.

consult with/trust in yOUR creators. providing more than enough of everything for everyone (without any distracting/spiritdead personal gain motives), whilst badtolling unprecedented evile, using an unlimited supply of newclear power, since/until forever. see you there?

Consortium (1)

zaphod_es (613312) | more than 8 years ago | (#15642244)

From the article:
One billion dollars each in seed capital from Microsoft, AOL, Yahoo, and Google would be enough to set neighborhood network dominos falling in communities throughout ...

Wow, now that would be something to see, a biblical prophecy getting it right on the button:
The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb, The leopard shall lie down with the young goat, The calf and the young lion and the fatling together; And a little child shall lead them. Isaiah 11:6

I like this analogy (4, Interesting)

LaughingCoder (914424) | more than 8 years ago | (#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?

Re:I like this analogy (2, Interesting)

Zobeid (314469) | more than 8 years ago | (#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.

Re:I like this analogy (1)

westlake (615356) | more than 8 years ago | (#15642489)

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.

Just don't hold your breath waiting for it to happen.

The empire had a very long run and in many ways still defines what is distinctly Western.

The eastern empire, while always more Greek than Roman, survived well into the modern era---which more or less begins with an awareness of Rome's fall.

meeting halfway (5, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#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.

Re:meeting halfway (1)

SupraTT GOP (825665) | more than 8 years ago | (#15642760)

Dear AC, Do you have a blog or otherwise some form of contact information so that some of us may be informed of your progress? This is very interesting and useful information! TIA!

Where is the gas tax? (1)

m0llusk (789903) | more than 8 years ago | (#15642300)

The comparison is to road infrastructure, but what makes government funding of roads work are taxes on fuel. Without something like that there is no direct link between use of the capacity and the funding required for that capacity.

Re:Where is the gas tax? (1)

Anspen (673098) | more than 8 years ago | (#15642635)

First of all: current taxes on fuel don't come close to paying for road construction and maintenance.

Second: we know the needed capacity: fibre to every house (well within limit. I doubt extremely remote areas would be hooked up. At least initially). The capacity of fibre is high that the last mile shouldn't be a bottle neck for the next two decades (famous last words, I know) the overall capacity of the network would depend on the part before that. You'd still pay for the actual bits transferred. If network usage were to increase the ISP's/Telco's/TV companies would have an incentive and a clear financial structure to increase capacity.

Basically this system would separate the (expensive but theoretically mostly one off) cost of laying cable to you house and the cost of actually transferring data. Which would increase market transparency. Added benefit: only one cable/fibre to maintain, instead of telephone line, cable, fibre.

And they said Internet killed the Radio Amateur... (4, Insightful)

MindPrison (864299) | more than 8 years ago | (#15642305)

...see how wrong they where?

I'm a radio amateur, don't know what that is? Look up ARRL on Google and educate yourself.

The idea of making an international network predates the Internet, actually way back in time when Samuel Morse invented ...well..duh...Morse code. Of course, morse code....slow as it is - isn't practical for a world-wide-wireless network with todays demands for broadband and hight troughput, but the Radioamateurs are the ones that carry the solution for nearly every wireless innovation in the world. Who's the first to try out new untested stuff? Radio amateurs, who's the first to utilize it all before it becomes mainstream? Who's do YOU know that communicates today digitally via their own satellites? You may not know anyone - but they're radioamateurs and they're in this world - way ahead as usual - perhaps not old "grandpappy HAM-operator from-way-back" but the legacy he and so many others carried on - lives in us - the younger generation who grew up with bread-board electronics and became engineers, technicians...and yes.. radio amateurs - your average radio-shack hobbyist. You may not know it - even though radio-shack and the likes all over the planet are phasing out old-style electronics - we're still active and inventive.

Fancy - a little history and a waving finger, but where does that place us? Well - you brought it up to the public and you read it, participated in it - a suggestion to create our own world wide intranet. I say it's a GREAT idea, not new as you can read from this and history - but is it feasible? Well - turn to radioamateurs, call out NOW and get cracking! (and no - that's not cracking, it's a metaphor for get busy!)

Things as they are now:

A world wide wireless Ad-Hoc network. More and more mainboards plus laptops come with wireless adaptors built right in, as you may know already - these are radio transmitters & receivers. A little engineering and these can be modified to support such an idea, can even use it today without modifying anything but software.

In the radio-amateur world we have something called Packet-Radio. Packet radio can be hideously slow and it can also be really fast, it all depends on the same things YOU depend on...bandwith....and the actual band. A little radio theory for you all: The short wave bands are great for reaching long distances and a relatively reliable connection that can last for hours - worldwide! The shortwave bands shortcomings is that they're not carrying a lot of bandwidth for data usage so we need to be creative. For 20 years ago - no one would have guessed that you could transmit digital Hifi-Stereo radio streams via the shortwave band in a few kilohertz bandwith, but you can - look it up on Google - it's called DRM (no Not Digital Rights Management) But Digital Radio Mondale. This shows you how creative you can get being a radio amateur engineer - and we haven't reached the limits there yet. Now for the more interesting bands - VHF and UHF. These bands doesn't reach very far, but we have higher bandwidth capabilities and it could potentially sport speeds up to an average 56 K modem. 56 K is not very fast, but the good thing about radio is that you can be several users onto several servers using the same frequency but far away from each other...thus you could in fact share a 2 mbit "wireless" line just using packet radio alone because all users wont be onto that same 56K relay! And best of all - it's free, you need a radio-amateur license though.

Ok, 56 K not enough for you even if it's free? How about microwaves? yes - thats what you already use today with your existing wireless equipment - yes even as hight as 5 ghz. If you read my post so far, then you probably have guessed that the microwave distance will be even less...shortwave reaches far..but have low bandwidth ...Vhf...medium bandwidth ...and UHF to microwave have Mega to Gigabit capability, now we're talking, right?

Truth is - it's already done, and radio amateurs worldwide communicate with their own satellites, both digitally and even with analog tv-transmissions.

Hopefully this post have given you some ideas of a bigger world and that it will inspire you to grow with it and perhaps even lead the way, if anything - you're all welcome to peek inside the world of todays radio-amateurs if you're truly serious about building a huge global network that we all could use - free from all commercial activity . (btw. did you know that one of the license requirements is that radio-amateur traffic never must be used for commercial traffic?) But it's all about individual freedom - freedom to experiment, invent and above all - have fun - with no border limits, race, political issues to stand in the way.

Re:And they said Internet killed the Radio Amateur (1)

bromoseltzer (23292) | more than 8 years ago | (#15642562)

Yes, ham radio exists and has lots of new high-tech directions. Unfortunately, for the /. crowd (and even more for the general Internet community), there are limitations to what you (we) can do in ham radio compared with the Internet.

Amateur radio is a licensed service, meaning that a non-trivial (though pretty easy for /.-ers?) exam is required. This will always keep out the general public -- either a good or bad thing depending on point of view. Some folks would like to see licensing diluted to the level of Citizens Band [] or GMRS [] , i.e., widely ignored and no technical content anyway, but most hams want to keep up a reasonable entry barrier to ensure some level of motivation and technical and operational competence.

The other point is that the amateur radio service is by law non-commercial, meaning that no one can be paid for providing communications services. There is some debate whether you as an individual ham are allowed to "order pizza" (or use using your own radio. Certainly, no business could use the amateur bands. That rules out a very big chunk of Internet traffic.

A lot of computer experimenter work uses WiFi technology - which is an unlicensed mode without the ham radio restrictions. (WiFi frequencies overlap a ham allocation, so you can use WiFi gear as part of a ham licensed network if you want.) There is some neat extreme ham-like WiFi [] .

With my ham station, I can routinely communicate digitally around the world at 31 bps (keyboard to keyboard)and 50 watts of power, even at sunspot minimum. No ISP, no infrastructure dependencies! It's a gas.

Further reading at [] and Wikipedia [] .

-Martin, AA6E

Re:And they said Internet killed the Radio Amateur (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15642579)

"if you're truly serious about building a huge global network that we all could use - free from all commercial activity . (btw. did you know that one of the license requirements is that radio-amateur traffic never must be used for commercial traffic?)"

Yeah well, that's probably the single thing which turns me off from the idea of packet radio - that, plus the no encryption rules. I understand why they have the rules, but it means that you couldn't use it as a replacement for a general purpose connection. No browsing Amazon or eBay, no browsing datasheets if you're designing something for commercial use, etc. You might not even be able to browse web pages in general - unless you're pretty good at blocking banner ads. No encryption means I can't use it for remote SSH, regardless of whether it is noncommercial. The only real use for it, I suppose, is remote telemetry...and at the moment, I don't really have a project that needs that.

Just curious, but is there any form of cheap (probably low-bandwidth, geographically limited, or short-range) spectrum that could be used with encryption or for commercial purposes?

Re:And they said Internet killed the Radio Amateur (1)

icepick72 (834363) | more than 8 years ago | (#15642607)

I'm a radio amateur, don't know what that is? Look up ARRL on Google and educate yourself.

You might be surprised at how many people around here understand or are involved in the hobby. Just saying, you're probably not blind-siding us with the technology.

Build fiber into housing developments (1)

Just Another Poster (894286) | more than 8 years ago | (#15642306)

Developers already put in streets, sewers, gas and electrical lines when they build subdivisions. Just add fiber to the list. Every development has it's own small central office or headend.

Re:Build fiber into housing developments (1)

Oligonicella (659917) | more than 8 years ago | (#15642570)

But, as the fiber is not a living essential it will be owned by -- wait for it -- the developer.

New communities (1)

Barleymashers (643146) | more than 8 years ago | (#15642308)

I live in an established community that was around before the internet hype started, so we are stuck right now with the existing wiring infrastructure. However, around me I see new communities going up all the time and I never understand why they don't install fiber to begin with and why these new homeowners associations don't decide to own lines inside of their community and have the ISPs just connect at the front door. Perhaps it has something to do with regulations that the phone company or whomever must own the connection, but I think it would be worth to consider running a second line so that people in your community could have a choice. Hell, I don't get much worth from my homeowners fee at the moment, at least this in my mind would be something I would pay for.

Good Idea, Not So Good Reasoning (1)

Wicked187 (529065) | more than 8 years ago | (#15642325)

I like the idea of finding your own method around a problem. However, the second paragraph that is quoted in the post is about the most asinine thing I have read all week... and that is saying something.

Nationilze? (3, Insightful)

Yez70 (924200) | more than 8 years ago | (#15642346)

I know this goes completely against the 'American way' but maybe it should be considered. Besides, WE paid for the telco networks, WE subsidize them in taxes that never end. WE have put up with their BS for long enough. The bloated telco's are already facing their demise as communication becomes cheaper and cheaper thru alternative sources, and will eventually be completely free or near to it for the majority.

Let's use 'eminent domain' the right way, not against the citizens, but against the corrupt telcos whose only interest is their own survival and profits - not the consumer.

On the flip side - there is already a company building a free wi-fi network, you share your wi-fi and you get to use everyone elses too - free - or don't share it and only pay a fair $2 a day to use other people's wi-fi hotpsots. Check out: []

Re:Nationilze? (2, Interesting)

Explodicle (818405) | more than 8 years ago | (#15642542)

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? (2, Interesting)

Yez70 (924200) | more than 8 years ago | (#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

It's Not Just A Pipe! (2, Insightful)

lseltzer (311306) | more than 8 years ago | (#15642349)

People who buy service from an ISP aren't just buying raw connectivity, they're buying e-mail service, proxies, some security facilities, tech support and a lot more. Maybe it's a bad deal, but Cringely's $17.42 figure is not an accurate one.

Re:It's Not Just A Pipe! (1)

Vegeta99 (219501) | more than 8 years ago | (#15642375)

But why can't I pick and choose that?

The "Information Superhighway" should be just like the /real/ highway. We pay a proportionately low price for the road (Currently in PA, it costs me $36/car/year and $25/4 years for a license), and are given unlimited access to all roads, owned by my state or not. I, however, choose the car, how I maintain it, the route, etc etc. Imagine paying Bell a small fee for access to the "Public Data Network" and then choosing your own services separately, or running them yourself if you want. Rates could act just like road rates - As much as you can use it, but more if you're making profit, ala apportioned registrations for trucks, etc.

I can see it being as cheap as road access, too, considering how much it costs to lay a mile of pavement these days.

Re:It's Not Just A Pipe! (1)

unity100 (970058) | more than 8 years ago | (#15642452)

In this case the company that runs the road have the power to determine how it is used. There are established standards and NEUTRALITY laws that regulate roads so that you or nobody else gets discriminated.

In the case of internet, they are trying to prevent this neutrality. You cannot leave the control of the internet 'road', even the last mile, to local corporations. If you do, theyll do whatever they want with you.

Re:It's Not Just A Pipe! (1)

lseltzer (311306) | more than 8 years ago | (#15642526)

>>There are established standards and NEUTRALITY laws that regulate roads so that you or nobody else gets discriminated.

This isn't true. There are lots of roads where, for example, trucks are not permitted, or their operation is limited, or there are weight limitations. There are bridges and tunnels where certain types of vehicles and cargoes are banned. There are toll roads where different types of vehicles pay different fees. And, of course, the operation of vehicles on the roads is heavily (if unevenly) regulated to combat abuse.

Real highways aren't a good analogy for net neutrality proponents, don't go there.

What I think US ISPs should do (3, Interesting)

jonwil (467024) | more than 8 years ago | (#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. will be in the high tier whereas and will be in the low tier. Sites like,,, and will be in the high tier while sites that dont follow the "groupthink" such as or will be in the low tier. Sites like (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 companies to run our lives, fight back.
Use ISPs that dont control your access (like Speakeasy).
Use & support Free Software wherver possible. If you are considering buying a piece of software, check if there is a free alternative that suites your needs first.
Write to your elected representitives and tell them that you strongly oppose plans to implement the broadcast flag, mandatory trusted compting, a tiered internet, replacing local jobs with foriegn ones, laws that make it harder for the little guy to publish and other such anti-freedom measures.
When the election comes around, vote. And vote for the people who dont support the broadcast flag, mandatory trusted compting, a tiered internet, replacing local jobs with foriegn ones, laws that make it harder for the little guy to publish and other such anti-freedom measures.
Not only that, convince others to do the same. And, send donations (doesnt have to be big, it only has to be enough to get noticed) to these people explaining WHY you support them and that if they continue to oppose these measures, you will continue to support them.

Re:What I think US ISPs should do (1)

Lehk228 (705449) | more than 8 years ago | (#15642397)

you think bandwidth overage charges would be a good thing!???

why not just use smart throttling so in any given week your first X(1) megabytes go at y(1) then it slows down to y(2) for x(2) megabytes etcetera

if you hog too bad you will end up at early 90's dialup speed, but only for a few days.

this would teach people not to hog bandwidth without people getting shocked by their first bill and leaving the service

Re:What I think US ISPs should do (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15642436)

You know, that sounds like a fantastic idea - because we all love how our cell phone providers (here in the US) work. Let's make everything work that way, too. Consumers love paying for a set amount of things, then going over, or not being able to use all of it!

Re:What I think US ISPs should do (1)

The Cisco Kid (31490) | more than 8 years ago | (#15642487)

One quick response - bandwidth is 'per second'. And Id love to have a specific, limited bandwidth. What you are talking about is 'transfer', which harkens to the cell phone carriers wanting to bill 'per minute', or for dialup ISP's to bill 'per hour'. The former is starting to break down, and the latter went away a long time ago. The entire concept of being 'on the meter' is obnoxious. I'd rather have a limited, fixed X Mbps, and be able to use it (or not) as much as I want.

Another option (1)

jonwil (467024) | more than 8 years ago | (#15642713)

Another alternative would be to do what the ISP I am with here in australia does.
I get 20GB a month download quota and if I ecxeed it, I get throttled back to 64kbps speed untill the end of the month.

What I am really saying is that US ISPs are finding out that they cant offer "unlimited" and get away with it because of all the p2p users etc. And so they want to solve it by blocking or throttling p2p and other things when the better solution is a user pays model which means that the people who are downloading from bittorrent/p2p/etc 24/7 pay more for their internet than people who use it less.
Dont discriminate on the content, protocols, ports or networks. Discriminate based on the customer and make the bandwidth hogs pay more (or make them get throttled back if they use too much bandwidth).

Do you own the copyright? (1)

tepples (727027) | more than 8 years ago | (#15642490) (with all the restrictions like a ban on posting any audio file even if you can prove you own the copyright)

But can you prove that you own the copyright? If you make a "cover version", a recording of someone else's copyrighted song, then you do not own the copyright. If you write a song and you happen to subconsciously copy part of someone else's copyrighted song, then you do not own the copyright. If you write a song, and it happens to coincidentally match [] something you heard on the radio a decade ago, then the court will assume that you subconsciously copied it.

Still, which clause of the GeoCities TOS [] disallows uploading audio files? If you tried uploading your band's MP3 file, and you're sure that the song was original, you may have been TOSsed under 5(f) on grounds of using the patented MP3 format rather than a Free format.

I can see it now (1)

SengirV (203400) | more than 8 years ago | (#15642418)

customer: I am having problems with my internet connection
telco: Well, everything looks good on our side. You need to contact your local municipality.
customer: uhhhh, what's a municipality?

My $0.02 (or $0.00 if you are against the penny) (2, Insightful)

Rinisari (521266) | more than 8 years ago | (#15642437)

I've pulled out some choice thoughts from the article:
To Bob the issues surrounding Net Neutrality come down to billability and infrastructure. While saying they are doing us favors, ISPs are really offering us services they can bill for. Nothing is aimed at helping us, while everything is aimed at creating a billable event.
This is true, don't act like you don't know it. Every corporation wants every chance to make money--it wouldn't be a profitable business if it didn't.
Take WiFi hotspots, for example. Why should the telephone or cable company care about who connects to my WiFi access point? They are my bits, not the ISP's. I paid for them. If I can download gigabytes of pornography why can't I share my hotspot with someone walking down the street wanting to check his e-mail? Frankston's analogy for this is accusing someone of stealing your porch light by using it to read a street sign.
That may be about the best analogy I've ever heard for relating using someone else's wireless access point. From the buisness point of view, I can see where ISPs want each individual using their bandwidth to pay them, but if a person has already paid for a connection and is willing to share it, he should be allowed to do so.
Well we did [build public infrastructure], didn't we, with the National Information Infrastructure program of the 1990s, which was intended to bring fiber straight to most American homes? About $200 billion in tax credits and incentives went primarily to telephone companies participating in the NII program. What happened with that? They took the money, that's what, and gave us little or nothing in return.
They used it, and now they charge us for it. Money that should have been given to towns and cities went to corporations. I love America.
Using the higher $1,500 figure, the cost to finance the system over 10 years at today's prime rate would be $17.42 per month.
I'm paying $40 per month right now for an incredibly snaillike 512 kbps cable line and my parents, who live five miles away, are paying $43 per month for a 4 Mbps cable line that they barely use! Since I moved out, I'll bet their bandwidth usage is under 200 MB, and I've been out for a month. I'd gladly welcome this stuff in New Wilmington--lower cost, more bandwidth. And bragging rights.
One billion dollars each in seed capital from Microsoft, AOL, Yahoo, and Google would be enough to set neighborhood network dominos falling in communities throughout America with no tax money ever required. And they'd get their money back, both directly and indirectly, many times over.
Call it the investment of the millennium. Hell, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation [] could finance it independently with all the money it just got [] . It'll give kids a real Internet connection to enhance their education. Please, Think of the Children [] !

RONJA & Free Space Optics (3, Informative)

Zobeid (314469) | more than 8 years ago | (#15642464)

Free space optics (FSO) have been used to created community networks (free and otherwise). The advantages are: high speed full-duplex connections, no need to lay cable, no need for RF spectrum or broadcasting licenses.

Cost can be a problem, because it's strictly point-to-point, and you need a transceiver at each end of each link. That can rapidly add up to a lot of transceivers. And commercial transceivers are expensive. By comparison, the RONJA device can be made very cheaply, in terms of components costs -- but they take a lot of skilled labor to assemble. Check it --> []

The good news about FSO costs is, the network can start small and add one node at a time, and not have to pay the full up-front costs of something like laying fiber.

The other problem is that FSO has limited range and is strictly line-of-sight. Depending on terrain, trees and buildings, you may have to be pretty ingenious in placing the transceivers, and you might need towers or repeaters in some instances.

I am looking forward to Wi-Max, by the way. That's another technology with potential to change things.

If you only have a hammer - (3, Interesting)

Bookwyrm (3535) | more than 8 years ago | (#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.


WindBourne (631190) | more than 8 years ago | (#15642551)

WOW was doing this prior. Basically, they had a model of providing the last mile and only the last mile. But they appear to no longer be doing. The funny thing, a number of folks, including myself, have been saying this for years. It is nothing new. The general idea is to make the monopoly go to the lowest level possible. Once that starts, then real competition will happen and we will have loads of bandwidth at a fraction of the current price.

His proposal is in line with IEEE-USA proposals (4, Informative)

grandpa-geek (981017) | more than 8 years ago | (#15642563)

End-user ownership is a cornerstone of a proposal and a more recent white paper by a committee of IEEE-USA. See asp []

and docs/Gigabit-WP.pdf []

The fact is that the US is being dumbed down with respect to broadband technology. The Washington Post recently had an article stating that Koreans feel like they are going back to the past, telecommunications-wise, when they come to the US.

Real broadband is gigabit or better, bidirectional, to the end user. Ownership by end-users may be the only way we can achieve it. Content and bandwidth should be separated, with nobody other than end users allowed to provide both.

Own it (2, Insightful)

Spazmania (174582) | more than 8 years ago | (#15642687)

First off, we already own the last mile. That's why its called a "public right of way." Just like a public park, it belongs to all of us. The problem is that our pussy politicians (especially the Republicans) aren't asserting our rights to it. Companies using the right-of-ways are being permitted to tie the associated services with other more expensive and more restrictive services that aren't associated with the right-of-way. Want that to change? Vote Democrat. They're not perfect, but they do believe in actually regulating the companies that consume public resources.

Frankston points out that we build and finance public infrastructure in a public way using public funds with the goal of benefiting economic, social, and cultural development in our communities. So why not do the same with the Internet, which is an information infrastructure?

a) Networking technology continues to undergo rapid change.
b) Even the experts don't understand the 50-year requirements very well.

Public infrastructure projects work OK when the technology is stable and well understood. Like roads and bridges. They're a disasterous sinkhole for cash the rest of the time. That's why the money disappeared. 20 years from now when half the politicians are folks who grew up with the Internet and the networking experts can clearly articulate an infrastructure that with reasonable maintenance will remain appropriate and cost-effective for 50 years, then maybe we can look at it as a government infrastructure project.

In the mean time, we should assert our rights to the public right-of-ways. The price of access should be that the companies which use it don't get a unilateral choice in how the resulting products are sold.

The cost per fiber drop, according to Bill's estimate, is $1,000-$1,500 if 40 percent of homes participate.

There have to be some crazy assumptions behind that. Taking 12 strands for a mile with no stops is $15k in ideal circumstances. In downtown DC its $175/foot. If your ISP is not the phone company then there's about a 90% chance that its nearest office is more than 10 miles away. Even for the best case the numbers don't compute... And that's without considering the cost of maintenance and equipment to light the fiber.

Fiber works for the phone company because they multiplex it at about a 16:2 ratio within a few hundred yards of your home and then trunk that cable back to an office that's within about 3 miles. Even then they're banking on your purchase of phone, Internet and TV at $150/month to recoup the cost over the next 10 years.

$1500/customer? That's off by at least an order of magnitude. $1500 might cover the raw cost of the cable itself, but that's about it.
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