The other day I heard that the Internet was a utility. It made me wonder, if the Internet is truly a utility, why then aren’t there laws in place to make it easier to have the Internet. In other words, when your lights are about to be cut off, there are organizations that are willing to assist you in making your payments. Churches and non-profit organizations usually have a pool of funds that you can pull from to prevent your electricity from being cut off.
On top of this there are new technologies being developed to encourage “energy independence”, or to get you “off of the grid” whereby you can create your own electricity without the help of the power companies. There are houses that use solar electricity to augment that which is provided by the electricity companies whereby your electric bill is like $10. There are batteries that allow you to use devices without alternating current from the electrical grid. There are backup generators that can provide electricity when the grid is not working.
Is water a utility? Clearly, since sometime back in the nineties, if you wanted water but could not afford to pay your municipality to bring it to you one can purchase a bottle of water in a grocery store. In fact bottled water actually goes back to 1767, it just took over 320 years for the rest of us to catch up.
A utility is something that is subject to regulation and government oversight. For instance your electric company is prohibited from cutting off your electricity in the winter in areas in which one could not survive without any form of heat during that season, for the most part. Sure there have been instances in which this still happens, but for the most part the electric company will wait until it is warm enough for you to survive without any heat if they did not already cut off your electricity before it became too cold to exist without artificially generated warmth.
People that would like for the Internet to be regulated with such oversight may have their work cut out for them. That means that the Internet, which should be the cheapest bill that you have, would continue to be carried over for a period of time. That means thatnon-profit organizations and churches would assist you with your Internet. In a sense we already have unlimited access to the Internet as it is. Most providers will allow you to get online for as little as $10 a month, if you just have to get online.
In fact access to the Internet is about as cheap as it is ever going to be. The only access that is still expensive of late is mobile broadband; while certainly, you can get a nice price on the service I wouldn’t suggest using it for audio and video unnecessarily. To revisit this argument, television is seen as a utility by many Americans who were in an uproar because the government was forcing broadcasters to switch to an all-digital format, which required new equipment on the part of the broadcasters and the American public.
I purchased one of those fancy “converters” myself for $60. What I found is that many of the “enhanced” services that you find on cable and satellite television; the programming guide that shows me what is on, the aspect ratio, digital closed captioning, are now being offered over the air with regular television. I doubt that most people even realize that they can watch regular television and know what is going to come on in the future without a television guide. Some more sophisticated analog televisions attempted to do the same by weaving the electronic guide onto part of the signal that was not used for anything else.
However, as with most analog services, that system was a true pain. With digital you get that service and more with less bandwidth which should have meant more channels. So our government ended up issuing coupons to ease the burden, but dropped the ball on that approach as they ran out of coupons, then had to extend their program because people weren’t redeeming the coupons in time. We live in a world where everything is digital, from televisions to cameras to cellular phones, and there is absolutely nothing left that is analog except for the minimum that is needed to bring technology into the analog world in which us humans exist.
This means one of a few things, the first is that there will always be a need for someone to provide technical support for these devices when they fail. The second consideration is that there will always be a need for a programmer to provide the code to power these devices. There will always be a need for the physical resources to create these devices in the first place. So what do you do when you are on the outside of that circle and are without the Internet, which you no longer need a fancy contract to use?
Governments have provided the Internet to residents before, primarily in lower-income areas where individuals would not be able to afford high-speed Internet themselves. The approach is known as municipal broadband, and often uses what is known as mesh networking to provide a continuous redistribution of the Internet through multiple access points. In other words, instead of just taking the Internet through a centralized location, you are alsore-broadcasting the Internet back out; essentially there are multiple routers throughout the network.
That however is besides the point, the bottom line is that there are various methods of implementing such a strategy. In some areas the city just provides the Internet themselves, in others they have formed a private public partnership and still in others, regardless of how the Internet is provided to the public, the city actually offers applications such as email. The problem with municipal broadband is the same as that which all cities run into with the utilities and services that they already provide. Who should pay taxes for these services to provide to others, can one do better by payingout-of-pocket for the services than they can on their own, and finally, why am I paying for a service I don’t use but my neighbors do?
If you want to know just how well these situations work out you can see what happens when five people are paying for the Internet in an apartment complex but hundreds of people are using it for free. One person always wants to download or streamhigh-definition movies, or use this connection to play video games, and either tie up the bandwidth bringing all of the connections to a crawl. This has the effect of causing the people who are actually paying the billto lose their service because their provider is metering access. Chances are, someone at a town hall meeting is opposed to municipal broadband because someone playing World of Witchcraft, or downloading bit torrents have already done that to them, and they do not feel that their taxes should be used to contribute to some addictsdependency issues with the Internet.
I have to admit the Internet is quite like crack cocaine, and it isn’t just because of pornography and social networking either. The Internet is atwo-way street, you can actually make money and interact with people, unlike television. On the other hand, municipal broadband is in essence mobile, so it isn’t as though anyone else is sharing your connection anyway. Then again tell that to people in New York or Los Angeles trying to get onto AT&T’s limited 3g network with an iPhone.
St. Cloud is also the first free wi-fi service offered in the nation down in Florida, and OneCommunity is working to bring broadband to Northeastern Ohio. Even Akron, OH has a service in place that is downtown but should be spread out to the entire area shortly. Philadelphia is working on a service but so far I haven’t been able to determine if that service is up and running or not, though I did read on Wikipedia that what they do have is not completely free.
Individuals may begin to take the idea of municipal broadband seriously if it were coming out of New York or LA. When those area have free Wi-Fi it may seem like more of a reality than a pipe dream. Of course Ohio is pushing for this because they want to get out of the past and enable their citizens and towns to compete in the new age and are looking for a way to differentiate themselves from the crowd but what about those towns that are still attracting residents? Read Municipal Broadband Efforts Succeed Despite Wi-Fi Meltdown to see what happens when Wi-Fi succeeds in areas like Bristol, VA. Bristol is a small city in Virginia of around 17,000 that borders Tennessee that by all accounts should not have municipal Wi-Fi at all but does and has lured businesses to the area because of it.
Perhaps one day municipal Wi-Fi will be the norm instead of the exception, and the Internet will be a true utility. Until then shop around and take advantage of free Internet where you can find it. While you are it fine ways to make some money off of the Internet so that it pays you, as opposed to you continuously paying for it …