War for the Web had the good fortune to attend David Isenberg’s Freedom 2 Connect conference last week and as always we never cease to be struck by the incredible activist community surrounding the Internet. Freedom 2 Connect’s audience encompasses everyone from Lawyers and lobbyists to grass roots activists to tech geeks and grizzly old time computer experts. It’s amazing to watch a single man bring together such a diverse group of people and unite them in a common cause, and our hat is off to David to making it happen.
While the conference covered many different topics and sessions examined everything from the surveillance state to the recent FCC reclassification decision, War for the Web was struck by a very specific observation, and one that we think resonates not just in regards to the Internet, but American society as a whole.
My first job in film was at a revered post-production facility in New York City. This place had been open since 1927, when it was a film lab, and occupied a building in midtown that was originally a parking garage. Now, Post-Production facilities are full of expensive equipment. Hundreds of thousands, ranging into the millions of dollars for computers, specialized video equipment, signal routers, and much much more packed the floors. That doesn’t even include the client materials that retained in the vaults.
The building was prone to flooding. Not from ground level, but because of water main breaks in the higher floors. Apparently the building had mixed metal piping because of it’s age, and since different materials expand and contract at different rates, it would cause the mains to break, flooding every floor below with incredible amounts of water. This happened three times while I was there, and each time we would pull all the power, move the equipment, wait for it to dry off and hope that it worked. Some machines would break, some would work and we’d just get back to work.
To date, they have not addressed this issue. I heard about a flood as recently as last week. When this facility closes or moves on from this space, the building will need to be torn down and rebuilt. No one wants to address the problem in the meantime. This is a prime example of short term thinking.
It’s beginning to feel to us that the struggle for a better, freer, more effective Internet in this country mirrors a struggle we’re seeing across industries nationwide; long term versus short term thinking. This is a debate we can see in all sectors of the American economy, it’s investment banks and leveraged buyouts versus Warren Buffet, it’s public investment versus privatization, it is CEO compensation and stock buybacks.
And so it begs the question, what kind of America do we want? Do we, the American people, want a country that prepares for the future, and not just tomorrow, but our children’s future and our grandchildren’s futures? Or do we want an America where short term corporate interests dictate investment? This is the fundamental question that we all, as a nation, need to decide.
Because this question is fundamental to dictating who will invest in the Internet. If we want short term solutions, then I’m sure we can leave the Internet in the hands of current market players. They’ve demonstrated over and over again a dedication to short term investments and infrastructure. But if we want America to be competitive ten, twenty, thirty years from now, we need to change the rules of the game to encourage longer term thinking. Maybe this means allowing municipalities to build their own fiber infrastructure. Maybe this means dedicating money to creating a wholesale middle mile infrastructure in the United States, so that a few companies cannot act as gatekeepers to whole communities. Maybe this means nationalizing broadband, or taking even more drastic measures, like Australia is doing, and investing massively in a wholesale option. Maybe this means changing the rules to allow Google Fiber easier access to municipalities.
We can tell you, however, that it definitely means changing our perspective. It’s time for America to embrace the long view, and stop relying on short term solutions to fix long term problems.