On a recent episode of the podcast Recode Media with Peter Kafka, Kafka spoke with Harvard Law School Professor Susan Crawford about her newest book, titled “Fiber: The Coming Tech Revolution—And Why America Might Miss It.”
During their conversation, Crawford said that America’s movement towards upgrading its networks is moving at a snail’s pace – similar to what the country faced when electricity gained in popularity in the 20th century. The most common parallel between the story of electricity and improved internet access in modern day is that both were – and are – controlled by a handful of companies that are selling it to select businesses and rich folks in select urban areas. And, end users aren’t aware of its true potential.
“We are walking down that same path with internet access today,” Crawford told Kafka. “Although three-quarters of Americans…view it as a utility, as something in which the government should be involved, it’s not necessarily present in all corners of the country, extremely expensive, and controlled by a few private companies.”
Crawford also says that America isn’t yet at the stage where it worries about future internet access and network speed, and ultimately demands that access to be provided to everyone – including end users – at an affordable cost. If the story of electricity shows end users one thing, it’s that they might be looking at a similar phase with the current issues of internet access.
If the United States were to get more on top of things, such as by investing in and building fiber optic networks, it would be ready for the bigger and better upgrades other parts of the world are already enjoying, like 5G. Putting in the work to prepare for better internet access is being overlooked, Crawford says. It’s similar to people thinking that electricity was only used for powering one bulb in a family’s home instead of for greater uses, such as powering a refrigerator and other appliances on top of lighting up a house.
In a world of improved internet access and network speed, America would be able to build and support better networks, such as 5G, and use the networks for more than just streaming videos – they’d be able to go to the doctor, get an education, and feel like they’re at work without physically going to the office. And, companies utilizing the networks would be able to make better decisions about how to conduct their business, and potentially rake in greater profits.
“New forms of making money on new industries, in fact, are going to emerge once we figure this problem out,” Crawford said. “Right now, we’re not at that stage.”