You get the point. But it's more than just the Internet. The big change on the horizon is the move to enshrine access to a broadband connection as a basic right of citizenship. The slogan is being picked up here and abroad by a collection of interest groups and policymakers who view broadband as just too important to leave anymore to the vagaries of the private sector.
"We won't stop until every," says Chris Vein, the senior technology advisor to San Francisco's Mayor Gavin Newsom. It's not only rhetoric. His boss is one of the nation's most visible proponents of . Because he runs San Francisco, Newsom probably gets more than his fair share of ink. Some think that he also harbors ambitions to one day run for U.S. president--and nothing would look better on his resume than a line about how the city extended affordable broadband access to all its residents.
But Newsom is only picking up on a theme increasingly sounded by politicians elsewhere. The city of Philadelphia has also announced a high-profile plan to provide Internet access to its citizens., not a luxury. With the United States' ranking for plummeting from third place to 16th in just four years, this is more than an academic concern. The fear is this will translate into massive job losses to other nations.
So far, the telephone companies are watching how all this plays out, quietly rooting for the municipalities to screw things up. Afterto build that city's Wi-Fi network, a Comcast spokesman sniffed that City Hall was in over its head. Government's role should be that of disinterested arbiter and not that of Wi-Fi midwife, he said.
But they may be too late to stem this tide. Google has proposed tohigh-speed Internet access, perhaps a harbinger of the company's plans to build a nationwide network. Even before Google threw its hat into the ring, change was already in the air, .
As if we needed reminding, the resulting chaos underscored the glaring inadequacies that hampered communications. That added pressure to do something about the nation's Internet infrastructure--now. At a recent industry conference I attended, bringing together representatives from private industry and cities around the nation, that message came through loud and clear. There was no missing the fact that this was a matter of when, not if.
Ultimately, the question boils down to whether you believe that broadband is so important that, in the much the same way as water or power. There's no consensus about that, and it's doubtful that the issue will be put on the national agenda before the next presidential election.
Can the localities take the lead? In this country, there's nothing to rival the Associazione Nazionale Piccoli Comuni d'Italia, an Italian association of small towns that has adopted a plan to promote the adoption of Wi-Fi and wireless technology. That's helped even isolated burgs--like the village of Chamois, deep in the Italian Alps--offer wireless access to its residents.
"One thing I've learned is that no one model works everywhere," Paul Butcher of Intel says. "One community might treat it as a basic right. Another might say market dynamics should determine what they will deploy. There's no one piece of legislation that can anticipate the numerous needs out there."
Translation: Prepare yourself for a lot of sturm und drang before this issue gets sorted out. But sorted out it will be. The political momentum is only going to gain strength in the months ahead.