2018 Yale University Press | By Susan Crawford |
“In Fiber: The Coming Tech Revolution – And Why America Might Miss It, Susan Crawford explores how the political machinations of large corporations in the US have reduced the impetus to invest in fibre infrastructure, with a potentially detrimental effect not only on US competitiveness and innovation, but also on public health, education and community access to resources.This is a meticulously researched and accessible account of the development and implications of fibre optic technologies, writes Courteney J. O’Connor.”
“While the US does have fibre optic cables between cities (‘long haul’ or ‘backbone’ lines, 6), and in some metropolitan areas (‘middle-mile’ lines, 6), the lines do not actually extend to customers’ premises: the fabled last mile. The political machinations of large corporations in the US have reduced the impetus and willingness to invest in fibre infrastructure, to the potential detriment of not only the US economy but also the future competitiveness of American businesses at the international level. The future is, according to US telecommunications companies, too expensive to pay for in the present.
One of the things I find most useful about this particular book is the fact that Crawford not only makes the entire volume readable for anyone who chooses to pick it up, but she also takes the time to explain the concepts upon which the book is based (fibre optics, 5G and so on). So many authors now assume that all those reading their books have the knowledge of a subject matter expert, removing their work from the majority of the public that may be trying to educate themselves in a particular area. Not so with Crawford. Fiber is full of anecdotal remarks and segues that not only contribute to the general impact of the knowledge she is imparting, but also to the sense that this book is for everyone: this is an incredibly refreshing method of writing. For example, in explaining her visit to a fibre optic research and development facility in Chapter Two, Crawford makes the point that a single fibre optic cable can in fact ‘carry the entire weight of data on the internet’ (22). Considering she has just explained that fibre optics are literal strands of pure glass, this fact is both incredible and the best explanation I have yet come across in my research. It certainly leaves you wondering why less than 10% of the United States has fibre to the home (FTTH) services.”
“This is one of the leading themes of Crawford’s book: the United States, considered by most to be one of the most highly developed countries in the world, known for innovation and high levels of technological uptake, has low-quality and high-cost internet. And this is, apparently, in large part thanks to cable and telephone monopolies that have no economic incentive to upgrade their services in the face of high up-front costs. In the short term, one could imagine this being difficult to explain to shareholders, but considering the rapid rate of technological innovation and diffusion, this can only hurt the American economy and international competitiveness in the long run. So why wait?
In order to maintain an international reputation as a home for innovation and also to keep its place at the forefront of technological progress, the US needs to embrace fibre optic solutions and technologies. As can be seen in Crawford’s many examples, other nations are already outstripping the US in terms of services offered, relatively low costs and the strength and speed of communications technology and access. Fibre optic technologies will reinforce and improve not just the economy in the long run; it will also positively affect public health, national education at various levels, relative inequality and community access to resources.
Collaboration between schools and universities is possible with fibre connections, allowing students at one end of the country to manipulate laboratory equipment on the other side of the country in real time (97). Rural communities that would otherwise be unable to access educational opportunities can ‘beam in’, as it were, especially given the possibilities presented by VR/AR technologies. Healthcare-in-the-home services can offer the elderly, the chronically ill and their families some peace of mind knowing that at the touch of a button, a high-quality audiovisual feed can be made between a patient and their healthcare professional without ever leaving the house (121). Fibre connectivity can introduce new educational and development opportunities in low-income neighbourhoods, allowing communities in these areas access to the sort of services that higher-income communities take for granted (136). In terms of security, there is a necessity for high speed, secure communications that do not have to operate within the bandwidth limits of today. Thus, maintaining current communications technologies rather than investing in fibre will be a significant hindrance to the future of the United States and its citizens.”