Community Broadband & Community Organizing
by mitchipd, Thu May 25, 2006 at 02:49:02 PM EDT
The more I think about it, the more I'm convinced we (i.e., local communities and the country as a whole) need to build fiber and wireless "Internet roads," that are technically, economically, socially and politically far superior to what the incumbents offer and will offer in the timeframe it would take to build a fiber-wireless open Internet road system...regardless of whether we win this net neutrality battle.
I think the widespread enthusiasm for NN is a wonderful mobilization of democracy-enhancing energy and coalition building. But I also can't help but see it as a stop-gap measure that will slow but not stop the process of choking off the ability to grow of the open Internet we know and love.
I'd like to see the NN coalition transition to a Community Internet/Internet road movement, which offers not only a more complete solution, but also a political mobilization strategy that has both a national and "local community" center of gravity. As such, it can help link the progressive grassroots in towns and cities around the country with the national netroots.
Just imagine (please, really do) what kind of communication tools local activists would have at their disposal if they were in a community that offered 100 Mbps or even 1 Gbps of symmetrical bandwidth to every home (that's the bandwidth range that's cost effective to deliver given today's technology). Then think about how fired up activists in other communities will be to follow this model when they see what's possible but unavailable in their communities, which would be served only by cable/telco broadband networks that cost more and deliver a lot less.
As Flickr, YouTube, and other sites/tools show, the tech community is busy developing what they call Web 2.0 (or Media 2.0). I can't think of a population more likely to use those tools in powerful and productive ways than the progressive blogosphere. If you couple these tools and platforms with a super-fast open-access, standards-based network, you can start to pretty quickly create a qualitatively different level of communication experience. And I'm pretty sure that some Web 2.0 techies with a political bent would just love to jump in and develop politically-oriented tools specially designed to take advantage of 100 Mbps-1Gbps network speeds
I'd guess that every annual election cycle in a community with ubiquitous 100Mbps-1Gbps capacity would see dramatic enhancements of the democratic process if it had just a handful of dedicated activists, a techie or two, and at least one issue that got people's attention. That would give activists in other communities a good reason to put Community Broadband on their local political agenda, and a model to reference in making the case for it in their community. And the virtuous cycle of expansion and democracy-enhancement would continue, from community to community. And each time another community was "wired up", there'd be another local concentration of gigabit-powered activists able to help displace the MSM and other political "gatekeepers" at the national level with grassroots video and networked organizing tools.