How electricity became a right, and what it means for broadband

Glenn Fleishman's "The Killer App of 1900" draws striking parallels between the present-day debate over the necessity of Internet access and the early 20th century debate over the necessity of electricity. In the early days of electrification, electricity was a luxury, providing lights to a few people who chose electric over gas. The idea that electricity was a necessity (let alone a right) was widely held to be absurd. But because of the many applications for electric power, electrification quickly grew to be central in most Americans' lives, and many electrification projects were ultimately taken on by governments, from the local to the national (FDR's Rural Electrification Act).

Undoubtedly, you see where I've been going with all this. Broadband in 2009 is electricity in 1900. We may think we know all the means to which high-speed Internet access may be put, but we clearly do not: YouTube and Twitter prove that new things are constantly on the way and will emerge as bandwidth and access continues to increase.

Like electricity, the notion of whether broadband is an inherent right and necessity of every citizen is up for grabs in the US. Sweden and Finland have already answered the question: It's a birthright. Hong Kong, Japan, South Korea, and many European countries aren't far behind in having created the right regulatory and market conditions to bring better and affordable broadband to a greater percentage of its citizens than in the US.

In Seattle, we'll see how Mayor-Elect McGinn proceeds with a broadband plan cooked up under his predecessor (where it languished) that would let anyone in Seattle ask for and receive a fiber-optic hookup for Internet, TV, and voice at competitive rates to today's slower and funkier cable and DSL services. (As I said in today's Morning Fizz, I'm encouraged that McGinn has kept Nickels' technology guy, Bill Schrier (the guy who came up with the plan), on board.)

The Killer App of 1900

(via /.)

(Image: File:TVA water supply Wilder.gif, Wikimedia Commons)