Diving Into Telecommunications

Aesop’s famous fable about the tortoise beating the hare tells a simple message about persistence and foolishness.  We have searched in vain for as simple a story about fiber optic networks.  But in doing so we realized that Aesop’s story may have its own, hidden complications; wouldn’t we like to know why? Would the tortoise win a rematch?  Did he administer drugs to the hare in a pre-race celebratory cocktail?  Was the hare reacting to advanced states of a heart condition that had not been detected yet?  Isn’t rest a good thing, relaxing in face of an over-stimulated life?  Maybe it was a Zen moment, not to be condemned but cherished.

In 1921 telecommunications was simple.  That year our federal government gave AT&T a green light to gobble up all competitors to create a “natural monopoly” the would insure universal service at affordable rates.  It was an amazingly successful adventure.  For many decades the only meaning of telecommunications was making a phone call and talking, as simple as the tortoise beating the hare.  Then the government reversed course and through a law that became effective in 1996 ordered competition and investment in the three converging markets making up telecommunications—telephone, television, and radio.

Over the next ten years broadband inserted its newly formed head and in the blink of an eye became as necessary as roads and electricity and old-world telecommunications.  In that same blink of an eye the world of telecommunications became incredibly complex and confusing.  Most people faced with making decisions in the current bewildering array of choices wonder “who do I believe” more than “what must I know” to decide.  This is a dangerous state.  Our carriers today, in battle with each other for your mind, eyeballs, and dollars, have shown vigorous imaginations but less regard for openness or full disclosure or at times the truth.  The suggestion that 5G is around the corner is nonsense, but it is pledged every day now by many companies.  The idea that cable television networks can grow with our needs or will connect everyone is more believable but still borders on fable.

So we depart from the delightful readings Aesop provided to dive a little deeper into difficult subjects.   Some are just explanations for a variety of topics.  But some make arguments where current contentions obtain.  And some are moving targets.  We are engaged in litigation and legislative activities that change by the month but bear critically on what we can do.  The cost picture will move from suppositions to more realistic numbers as we get closer to real engineering and real relationships with vendors.  Our tracking of what other communities are doing changes every month.

We do not wish to leave a sense of Aesop as works for children.  We are much like the tortoise, plugging away for some years now hoping that persistence will eventually succeed.  The only difference is that we have a real prize to fight for, not just a moral victory.  If our region, or our state, adopts municipal fiber optic networks sooner rather than later, only good things for our communities will follow.  That is a prize worth the plodding along, step by wandering step, to the finish line.

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