The Maximum Net

Doc Searls writes that “the best model for building out infrastructure may be the Interstate Highway System.”

Here’s a question: should the decision to build the Net to maximum capacity–the broadest we can make broadband–be based on whether or not today’s carriers can think of a way to pay back the cost of building it?

While we’re answering that, let’s ask if the Net should be private at all. Are the rivers and seas private? How about the Interstate Highway System?

According to Wikipedia, the Interstate Highway System cost $114 billion to build. Can we even begin to calculate what it would cost us today not to have it? Or to estimate the cost of building it now? We need people with imagination talking to Congress, not just carriers and Wall Street analysts. We need to tell Congress what kinds of activity and what kinds of business are made possible by a public Internet with maximized capacity. What boats get floated by symmetrical 100Mb or 1Gb bandwidth to homes and businesses?

At BarCamp in Austin last Saturday, Wayne Caswell of CaziTech gave a detailed presentation that argued for public broadband infrastructure and for imagining its benefits. He went beyond the obvious and listed its benefits to education, healthcare, lifestyle, governance, national security, photo and video sharing, live teleconferencing, remotely served real-world simulations, hyper-realistic multiplayer gaming, organic LEDs bringing HD pictures to handheld devices, Ultra HDTV, distributed immersive theater, signing and lip reading for the deaf, telepresence, collaborative synchronized music performance across any distance. And he mentioned one that stood out for me as a guy who follows Linux: worldwide grid computing “with massive computational power that far surpasses that of a handful of supercomputers”, resulting in science breakthroughs out the wazoo.

These benefits alone dwarf advances made possible by oceanic transport or the Interstate Highway System

We need to think of something similar in India — think of broadbad as (digital) infrastructure.

The Container

The Economist reviews “The Box: How the Shipping Container Made the World Smaller and the World Economy Bigger” by Marc Levinson:

Consider the economics. Loading loose cargo, a back-breaking, laborious business, onto a medium-sized ship cost $5.83 a ton in 1956. McLean calculated that loading the Ideal-X cost less than $0.16 a ton. All of a sudden, the cost of shipping products to another destination was no longer prohibitively expensive.

This opened up all sorts of possibilities. Instead of manufacturing goods locally, a company could afford to replace its overcrowded multi-storey factory in Brooklyn with one in Pennsylvania, where taxes, electricity and other costs were lower, and then ship its goods to New York in a container. Later the factory might move to Mexico; it is now probably in China.

The Box is mostly about the formative years of the industry, perhaps providing a little more information than most people actually want.

The latest issue of Forbes also has an excerpt from the book. Seems like a fascinating read.