Is broadband a right?

Summary:I was plunged forcefully into an earlier time, into another century. Yes, it was the 20th. But I could only exchange information by talking to people, on the phone. My grasp of information was limited to newspapers and TV. (OK, cable.) I was starving.

I can't go as far as Charles Cooper and call broadband a right.

But it is a necessity, the first essential to membership in the 21st century.

I learned this over the last week. Last Friday a thunderstorm knocked out my own broadband. It took me a week to restore service. I did report in a few times, from "free" WiFi "hotspots," and learned in the process that "free" WiFi is actually the most expensive you can buy. I bought food and drink I had at home, spending an average of $10 for each two-hour session.

I was grateful. Without broadband I was out of business. I was also out of touch -- with the world, with my friends, with colleagues. My son lost his most valuable research tool. My daughter lost her favorite stories. My wife actually had to drive to work.

I was plunged forcefully into an earlier time, into another century. Yes, it was the 20th. But I could only exchange information by talking to people, on the phone. My grasp of information was limited to newspapers and TV. (OK, cable.) I was starving.

When something shifts from being optional to a necessity, however, subtle changes occur, not all of them good. We do pay for necessities, of course. We pay for food and housing, for electricity and heating. We pay for medical care. But notice that with each of these necessities there is extensive government involvement.

$100 laptop
I'm sure that's not what Charles meant. I'm certain he meant government should provide the capability and then get out of the way. Like it's gotten out of the way of TV and telephones, out of the way of the housing market, out of the way of utilities, and the medical market. (That's satire, if you haven't noticed by now.)

But broadband by itself is nothing, which is where the subject of this blog comes in. For broadband to be useful we need hardware and software. Hardware is a commodity, its pricing subject to Moore's Law. Software can be acommodity, when it's open source. When it's proprietary, it's something else entirely. (Have you priced Microsoft Office lately?)

Nick Negroponte wants to mass produce computers, running Linux, that will cost just $100 each.(There it is at right, from News.Com's September coverage.) It is based on two premises. Cheap ubiquitous broadband is one. Open source is the other.

Before you pooh-poof all this, please, take the experiment I took this week. Live for a while in what I'll call the 1987 house. See how you like it. Then get back to me.

Via e-mail, of course.

Topics: Broadband

About

Dana Blankenhorn has been a business journalist since 1978, and has covered technology since 1982. He launched the Interactive Age Daily, the first daily coverage of the Internet to launch with a magazine, in September 1994.

zdnet_core.socialButton.googleLabel Contact Disclosure

Kick off your day with ZDNet's daily email newsletter. It's the freshest tech news and opinion, served hot. Get it.

Related Stories

The best of ZDNet, delivered

You have been successfully signed up. To sign up for more newsletters or to manage your account, visit the Newsletter Subscription Center.
Subscription failed.