A few months ago, I posed a question: what if consumers could buy their own super-fast fiber optic broadband connections? Rather than telephone and cable companies owning the wires that run into your home, what if you could purchase and own your "last-mile" connection, and select from a variety of different service providers? A fiber connection from your home would not only enable faster Internet speeds, but also novel services like HD videoconferencing and even, someday, real-time communication through 3D holograms (seriously). And because the customer-owned fiber model would make it much easier for new broadband service providers to enter the market, it would open the door to more innovation, competition, and lower prices in Internet access and other retail services.
In a New America Foundation working paper released today, Professor Tim Wu and I explore this idea in more detail. We outline what customer-owned fiber might look like, its possible advantages, and obstacles to its success.
The idea of customer-owned fiber may seem odd at first, but it is important to remember that many items that consumers buy today would have seemed very strange not long ago. Until the personal computer, a computer was something that only large companies owned. For decades, telephones were available only for lease, not for purchase. Fiber to the home could be the next technology that moves into the realm of consumer property.
While we certainly concede that there are many practical questions about this model's viability and that this is not a panacea for America's broadband challenges, we do hope the paper spurs further investigation and experimentation in broadband deployment. Our country needs as much creative thinking as it can get to determine how to deliver fast, open Internet access for everyone. Customer-owned fiber could be one piece of the puzzle.
For those of you in D.C., Tim and I will be giving a talk at the New America Foundation tomorrow:
Home With Tails
Friday, November 21, 2008
12:30-1:30 PM ET