Fiber | Susan P. Crawford

Summary of: Fiber: The Coming Tech Revolution―and Why America Might Miss It
By: Susan P. Crawford

Introduction

Embark on a journey to explore the state of America’s internet connectivity and how it trails behind other nations like Japan, South Korea, and Singapore. ‘Fiber: The Coming Tech Revolution―and Why America Might Miss It’ by Susan P. Crawford unveils the consequences of poor internet accessibility on education, healthcare, and economic opportunities. Get a glimpse of how powerful business interests and political corruption hamper the spread of fiber connections, and discover how some cities are taking matters into their own hands by building their own local fiber networks to boost their economy and societal development.

America’s Internet Lag

The United States, once a leader in technology, now falls behind countries such as Japan, South Korea, Singapore, Hong Kong, and China in terms of internet connectivity. While fiber technology has reached or will reach all homes in those countries, the average American household struggles with slow internet speeds at high prices. The lack of progress creates a growing divide between the US and other nations who are likely to see new industries and ways of making a living emerge.

The Cost of Slow Internet

Slow copper connections create a bottleneck that limits the growth and progress of the US. The country needs fast fiber connectivity to thrive, but it remains out of reach for many households due to powerful business interests and political indifference. The consequence of slow internet affects education, business, and healthcare. Children are robbed of equal educational opportunities, business startups are hindered, and health care solutions cannot be fully realized. For the US to succeed, it needs to provide cheap and ubiquitous connectivity to all households.

America’s Technological Legacy

The book reveals how past US presidents utilized private sector partnerships to establish America’s technological superiority in the 19th and 20th centuries. The railroad system championed by Abraham Lincoln, Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s mandate to electrify every American home, and Dwight Eisenhower’s highway system created the foundation for the nation’s economic growth and prosperity.

The Impact of Fiber Optics

Fiber optics carry voice and internet traffic for decades with negligible signal degradation. A few strands connect the US and China, but fiber is not yet widely used in America. Despite this, Americans pay more than almost all other developed countries for average download speeds.

The Digital Divide in America

America’s rural and inner cities suffer from a lack of high-speed internet as the major providers monopolize the market and prioritize profits. The absence of fiber infrastructure hinders advanced wireless services. This digital divide has economic, social, and political consequences. The Federal Communications Commission’s efforts to address the issue have been thwarted, resulting in a country divided by access to online services.

America’s digital divide is a result of the near-monopoly enjoyed by internet providers who prioritize profits over providing quality services. The installation of fiber optics is expensive, particularly when it extends into homes. Although millions of people in farming communities and small towns lack wired internet, the monopolies see no reason to spend the necessary funds and cut into their profits. This has resulted in over a third of Americans living in rural counties or inner cities with low-speed or no wired internet access. Many existing providers have stopped expanding or improving their services, and others have abandoned these markets. The government and carriers offer wireless internet through mobile devices, which, apart from being slow, have expensive data plans. However, even these proposed solutions are ineffective as laying fiber infrastructure is crucial to support 5G that requires millions of micro towers to connect internet users across the country.

Rural Americans mainly rely on slow and expensive copper lines or satellite connections while they watch the divide between them and their city counterparts widen. With the future of agriculture depending on data, real-time analysis, and GPS technologies, millions of rural Americans without access to the internet are falling further behind and causing a digital, economic, and political divide. The absence of advanced internet services hinders online learning, health services, and business opportunities, thus preventing many Americans from being part of the digital world and enjoying the benefits it offers.

In 2015, the US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) tried to classify high-speed internet as a utility, which would have granted everyone the right to have it in their homes like water and electricity. However, the Trump presidency resulted in the shelving of these efforts. The FCC’s refusal to enact regulations requiring minimum internet access to US households, combined with their approval of giant media mergers, has resulted in a country divided by access to online services. The FCC’s approval of media mergers has also resulted in the giants, Verizon, Comcast, AT&T, and CenturyLink dividing monopoly territories; even the most connected parts of the country have one carrier providing high-speed internet or crushing far weaker competition.

The digital divide in America is a pressing issue that has a significant impact on individuals and society’s collective wellbeing. The government and stakeholders must take action to close this divide and enable millions of Americans to access the numerous benefits that come with high-speed internet services.

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