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Bite-Sized Broadband: Your Quick Guide to the Launch of "Internet for Everyone"

BY Nancy Scola | Tuesday, June 24 2008

(6/25/08 -- Updated with links to the affiliations of the presenters.)

I'm here at PdF '08 at a press conference marking the launch of InternetforEveryone.com, a coalition pushing for universal high-speed Internet, centered around four core tenets: access, choice, openness, and innovation. The unveiling of the broadband effort was a unique opportunity to witness some pretty, ehem, prolific talkers from the worlds of academia, advocacy, and business strictly held to just one or two minutes, and so I've tried to capture their mico-arguments in favor of universal broadband here. (Each presenter naturally ran through their material fairly quickly, so I regret if I missed a word or two or otherwise failed to capture the essence of their ideas.)

So here's our guide to the bite-sized arguments in favor of universal broadband from some of the leading voices in the field:

Executive director of the advocacy group Free Press, Josh Silver: This is an unprecedented public-private effort to create the good will to drive change on universal broadband. The digital divide is not shrinking -- more than half of the American population does not have access to high-speed broadband. One of the biggest obstacles is that the Internet is not seen as a political issue, and the people for whom it is a political issued aren't politically organized. "The time for this work is right now."

Partner at the venture capital firm Union Square Ventures, Brad Burnham: Union Square Ventures specializes in applications-layer innovation, like Del.icio.us and Tumblr. "We're supporting this effort because we're huge fans of decentralized innovation."

Founder and CEO of Zipcar and Meadow Networks, Robin Chase: "Maybe [broadband Internet] is not as basic as water, but it's as basic as hot water. Zipcar would not exist without access to the Internet. And for those without access to Internet, Zipcar does not exist."

Democratic commissioner on the Federal Communications Commission, Jonathan S. Adelstein: "The internet is reawaking American democracy but for it to reach its full potential we need" openness, access. Truly successful broadband policy needs a consensus, a three-legged stool of government, business, and public. And the mission of Internet for Everyone is making sure that third leg is strong.

President of the content-creators' union Writers Guild of America-East, Michael Winship: Much of our content is moving online, and "we want as large and diverse an audience as possible."

Law professor at Columbia Law School and chair of Free Press, Tim Wu: "I want to point out how much we pay for bandwidth and how little we get. When you add up what the American family pays for bandwidth it's almost as much as they pay for energy. Production is controlled by a tiny cartel that sets prices high and keeps them there. We have a bandwidth crisis that in some ways is similar to the energy crisis."

Law professor and co-founder of Harvard Law School's Berkman Center, Jonathan Zittrain: "The internet is a collective hallucination. It doesn't obey the laws of supply and demand in the important ways." Peering is weird. The graph of expenses scales until it gets so high it gets to zero. (I'm guessing this is a reference to municipal wifi, but I could be way off.)

Now chief evangelist at Google and formerly, you know, inventor of the Internet, Vint Cert: "'Internet for Everyone' is not a new idea. See RFC3271, 'Internet is for Everyone.'" The Internet in the early days was a system that permitted uninhibited innovation. The Internet doesn't have a specific application. It has a lot of them, and the business models of the Internet don't match the business models of single application networks.

Law professor at Stanford Law School and founder of the new Change Congress movement, Larry Lessig: "So I'm a little lost because I don't have slides." (Cerf cracks wise: "Power corrupts. Power Point corrupts absolutely.") "I have one word: infrastructure. This is the first time we've tried to undertake the building of public infrastructure against the neanderthal philosophy that we don't need government to do it."

Republican political consultant and founder of both Slatecard and TechRepublican, David All: "It's really common sense to me why Republicans would want to support the Internet." Many of the Americans who don't have broadband "are in rural America. We [Republicans] lose elections by one, two, ten percent" and I want to start winning. "I'm 29 and an entrepreneur. Seventy percent of high school students want to be entrepreneurs, and they're not thinking of starting a barbershop. They're thinking of starting a Facebook."

Founder and president of the poverty-focused green-economy group Green for All, Van Jones: "The right to vote is diminished when people don't have access to the discussion in the blogosphere. The right to survive" now depends on the Internet. "People who didn't have access to information in the California wild fires -- for them it was a matter of life or death. And we want to build a green economy, but it's hard to apply for jobs you don't know about."