Tim Wu's new NYT op-ed, "OPEC 2.0," explores the growing carteliztion of bandwidth and its consequences for America, where we already spend nearly as much on bandwidth as we do on heating oil. Tim's got a newish book out about this stuff called Who Controls the Internet?
. I've only browsed it so far (way behind on my reading), but it looks like a classic to me.
Like energy, bandwidth is an essential economic input. You can’t run an engine without gas, or a cellphone without bandwidth. Both are also resources controlled by a tight group of producers, whether oil companies and Middle Eastern nations or communications companies like AT&T, Comcast and Vodafone. That’s why, as with energy, we need to develop alternative sources of bandwidth.
Wired connections to the home – cable and telephone lines – are the major way that Americans move information. In the United States and in most of the world, a monopoly or duopoly controls the pipes that supply homes with information. These companies, primarily phone and cable companies, have a natural interest in controlling supply to maintain price levels and extract maximum profit from their investments – similar to how OPEC sets production quotas to guarantee high prices.
But just as with oil, there are alternatives. Amsterdam and some cities in Utah have deployed their own fiber to carry bandwidth as a public utility. A future possibility is to buy your own fiber, the way you might buy a solar panel for your home.
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