The quest for fiber optic enabled gigabit networking is the holey grail of Internet infrastructure. Academic efforts starting in 1996 (called the ‘Internet2′ movement) have been focused on futuristic esoteric solutions ranging from remote surgery to massive data computation and visualization. Recent efforts called US Ignite have continued this trend in the world of research, looking for ‘killer apps’ which can justify 1,000 Mbps connectivity.
I have been a curious observant of this quest for the killer app of gigabit networking, because to me - the real benefits of gigabit networking are obvious. Stability. I sit here in Cleveland, OH on a T-W cable modem connection that goes down several times a day. I have had consumer access in my home since the early days of the Internet and can never really say that I’ve EVER had the kind of stable connectivity that I expect at an office, higher educational institution or government office.
Consumers have been dealt the bad hand, as telephone and cable companies have subdivided bandwidth access, doling out ‘dribbles’ of bandwidth and charging an arm and a leg – for the privilege. Its been documented in many places how far behind Americans are in obtaining Internet access – but that’s not the point I want to make here.
As bandwidth policy and business practices are combined into some sort of patriotic fervor, we’re still missing the essence of what having a Gig of bandwidth really means! I believe that broadband infrastructure deployment can accelerate once we get our arms around this basic notion that gigabit networking provides a stable, secure foundaion on top of which we can all build digital economy ecosystems.
Those ecosystems START with Startup Communities – but certainly don’t end there. [MORE on this next stage - l8r.]
My new company Digital City Mechanics (“DCM”) does not provide or offer hardware infrastructure or Internet bandwidth. We pick up right where the broadband infrastructure leaves off. We provide training in this new culture that we find ourselves in, where workers of the future will work on a part-time, freelance basis in a project-based on-line digital economy. We then hope to provide workers on-line jobs on an on-going basis – all built on top of an open platform. And in the case of the specific question “what EXACTLY does one do with 1G of bandwidth?” our answer is “stability.”
This is what’s missing from society today – Internet as infrastructure. We’re getting there. Free Wifi is available at McDonalds. The catch-22 of broadband is being solved with compelling video oriented applications, content and activities. Broadband connectivity is readily available to anyone who looks for it. But even the over-hyped 20Mhz lines that cable companies are now offering – often go down and are FAR from being stable, infrastructure level connectivity.
This issue is also prevalent when preparing workers for the on-line job of the future. We’re giving them basic computer skills, and the ability to utilize Microsoft Office, but they’re not getting the RIGHT skills or experience. DCM’s approach to creating on-line jobs starts with making sure that on-line workers feel comfortable working on-line and that they feel that the Internet, social media and multimedia are just new kinds of tools to make a living.
The #1 benefit of a 1G line – is that it won’t go down. It’s that simple. Workers of the future will have to rely upon a steady Internet line just like they’ve relied upon hammers and screwdrivers in the past. Only when stable bandwidth infrastructure is there – in their HOMES – will we (as a society) be able to move towards a true “digital economy ecosystem.”
That’s the business that DCM is in – building and enabling the right circumstances, programs, projects and services – to promulgate digital economy ecosystems – customized to a local culture, industry, history, populace and opportunities. We think there’s going to be a big business in “promulgating customized digital cities!”
A Gigabit line of connectivity can light up an entire neighborhood. The ISP business today takes this kind of bandwidth and slices up the bandwidth across 100 (or more) paying customers. Kansas City is a living breathing test lab for this premise. Google Fiber TV is being deployed as we speak, so we will soon see what really matters – having a 1G line – which has nothing special being offered over it, or just having a clean, stable fast line – in your home.
Experiments (like CWRU’s Case Connection Zone) or entire municipalities, like Lafayette, LA or Chattanooga, TN have laid the foundation for a kind of “futuristic” infrastructure – one that delivers FTTH (Fiber-to-the-home) – but “what is someone supposed to do with 1Gbps of bandwidth?” Even 100Mbps lines cannot be fully taken advantage of – in today (or even tomorrows) Internet. It’s in Kansas City (both MO and KS) that we’re finding our greatest opportunity to prove these theories. Google has adopted Kansas City for a grand experiment and this is where (we believe) a true “digital economy ecosystem” – can be born, promulgated and perpetuated!
Most of the entrepreneurial and research attention around gigabit networking is being put into applications and services that literally will not work without at least 100Mbs. Though remote surgical procedures are an envious, ideal goal – it’s not something that’s going to help the average person get a job in their community. Idealistic, futuristic research is great – but DCM’s #1 goal is creating on-line jobs NOW – and whether or not you have 50Mbps, 100Mbps or more – really does not matter. What matters is if the line ever goes down – or not.
Once stable infrastructure is in place, new kinds of apps and services can be possible, which when combined with mobile devices and cloud computing harkens in a new age of connected, socially and place aware solutions. DCM’s model builds on the momentum and economic backing of “broadband infrastructure investment.” So we are expanding the definition of “broadband infrastructure” to include: “software infrastructure” and a series of programs and services called: “digital workforce training and internships” , “software dashboard platforms”, “local business directory and marketplace”, “real-time video help bureau” or “multimedia production projects”.
Many of these solutions provide ways for citizens to buy or sell goods or services. Or connect with people in new and relevant ways. Or listen to or watch almost any kind of entertainment, news or content – and interact with that content – as well.
One kind of “software infrastructure” that DCM will be building in every city or region we engage in – is an on-line business directory made up of local existing businesses, freelancers, consulting groups, independents or other kinds of business entities. This business directory would be married to an on-line marketplace which would allow anyone to buy or sell – services – all via a free and open marketplace. A reputation system and fulfillment services would have to be part of this marketplace and it would reach out – beyond the physical boundaries of traditional marketplaces, but be based upon local goods and services – offered from YOUR neighborhood.
DCM’s programs, projects and services are all bred and based in local neighborhoods by local software developers, marketers and vendors. DCM teaches the modern day fisherman how to survive in the wilds of the Internet – and bring value and prosperity to their community. Local stakeholders would engage with local government to truly “connect-the-dots” and break down the silos that exist today in funding, execution and promotion.
Economic stability can be built on top of software infrastructure by creating alliances, consortia and “distributed networks” – and providing these groups of people with a free on-line dashboard platform, video help services and a tightly integrated on-line marketplace and business directory..
Regardless of the specifics of the applications or services, stable bandwidth makes it all possible. That’s just not possible when your Internet line goes down, or your mobile carrier’s signal is lost. An open minded, open access, open web for all – is our platform. And when we refer to “we”, we mean all of “us”. Not a single business entity or governmental unit, and not a particular community organization, lobbying group or affinity effort. We means a mixture of government, business and citizens – all benefiting from stable Internet connectivity. Without stable Internet connectivity, we cannot have a free and open Internet.
DCM’s programs, projects and services focus on the open web and build on top of an open source, open access “platform” – which welcomes and integrates all into the environment, aggregates other’s content and services into the platform and provides customization capabilities to any user or participant of the platform.
DCM educates and instills a culture which is based upon “open”, “share” or “free.” These are brand new concepts to many developers, business people or governmental employees. These are the principles on which a vibrant profitable digital economy ecosystem must be based. These are the themes that DCM’s programs, projects and services follow. It should not be a surprise that these principles are those of creative communities. DCM integrates the interests of government and business, into a context where local creative and community organizations – can flourish.
The goal of DCM’s methodology is to get future workers to feel comfortable using computers as the tools. And having a stable foundation to work – is essential. DCM’s solutions are based upon USING the bandwidth, not just talking about it.
FINAL NOTE: an original version of this post appeared in April, 2012. Since then Brad Feld’s book Startup Communities has appeared and the Boulder Thesis has become known. Please notice that at no time did I mean entrepreneurs or Startup Communities in this article. What that means is that we can’t stop with just Startup Communities. We need the benefits and jobs enabled by the Internet to “trickle down the pyramid” of jobs – to normal people. This is imperative.
Hi-tech jobs are NOT just programming jobs.