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The Internet

A More Down-To-Earth Way To Bring the Internet To the Rest of the World 60

An anonymous reader writes: Elon Musk wants to bring the internet to less-developed countries using satellites. Facebook wants to use drones. Google's betting on balloons. These crazy high-tech solutions are interesting, but are they really needed? Mark Summer doesn't think so. His company focuses on building out internet infrastructure the old fashioned way: trenching pipes, raising cell towers, and getting local governments to lease what they've already installed. "A major problem in emerging countries is that when Internet access is available, it's often expensive. That's due in part to a lack of competition among providers ... While the costs of terrestrial Internet connections are high, they're relatively predictable. And the business model is proven around the world."
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A More Down-To-Earth Way To Bring the Internet To the Rest of the World

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  • what's emerging? Antarctica?
    • ...when Internet access is available, it's often expensive. That's due in part to a lack of competition among providers.

      I think he's talking about Canada.

      • "I think he's talking about Canada."

        No, he's talking about the US, where cables are still nailed to wooden posts like in the days when Edison was still alive.

    • by sudon't ( 580652 )

      "A major problem in emerging countries is that when Internet access is available, it's often expensive."

      what's emerging? Antarctica?

      I assumed they meant the US. We seem to have the infrastructure, such as it is, yet there's no competition.

    • A major problem bringing technological infrastructure to emerging countries is that the populace steal it. Just walk right up and take it. Any credible plan to bring Internet to the third world has contend with that sad but hard fact.

  • "A major problem in emerging countries is that when Internet access is available, it's often expensive. That's due in part to a lack of competition among providers"

    No, it's not a lack of competition. It's freaking expensive to build out new infrastructure. Companies aren't charities. They need a return on their investment otherwise they will go out of business.

    • by u38cg ( 607297 )
      What part of "in part" did you struggle with? No, competition can't make real costs go away, but it can force providers to be more efficient.
      • by CAOgdin ( 984672 )

        It's not about being "more efficient." It's about getting the investment capital.

        All Utilities are like that. When San Francisco wanted electricity at the turn of the 20th century, they first had to build the huge Hetch Hetchy dam in rural California. Next they had to install electrical generators. Then they had to string all the towers and cable to bring that electricity back to the Peninsula. Then they had to wire the streets (with industry getting first service). AFTER all that capital expenditure,

    • by PPH ( 736903 )

      Satellites, balloons and drones are all forms of competition. It's just a matter of the providers betting on the economics of putting in cheap, low bandwidth systems vs expensive, high bandwidth ones. The cheap route bets that customers are poor and unwilling to pay for higher performance now or in the near future. The expensive route bets that economies will grow and with them, demand.

      The balloon vs terrestrial infrastructure is just a risk trade-off between novel technologies and market growth.

      • by CAOgdin ( 984672 )

        Unfortunately, you can't actually use much of the Internet without higher speeds. The FCC itself defines "Broadband" as 25 Mb/s and above. That's virtually a minimum threshold to do anything like generating revenue with a business that relies on the Internet.

        Try it out yourself: Throttle your own bandwidth back to, say, 3 Mb/s (great ghost of DSL!) for a week and notice how little you can actually get done. Google Maps are a drag, Amazon seems like you're trying to communicate with Venus (or the Pioneer

        • by PPH ( 736903 )

          OK. I've got a 5 Mb/s 3G connection from Clear (for the next couple of months). Works just fine.

          Microsoft's demand you download Windows 10

          Intercourse Microsoft and Windows 10.

    • by CAOgdin ( 984672 )

      Respectfully: You're wrong. Even when the economics DO make sense, there is no Investor interested because they don't fund utilities.

      The great deal with utilities is that they spin off big returns over decades; The downside is that it takes about 10 years to hit breakeven...and thinkers limited to a single quarter of future vision aren't interested at all, not when they can invest the same $35 Million with a doubling of their capital in just afew years through Wall Street.shenanigans. Another way the 1%

  • Give me balloon, satellite or drone, and let my pay you directly. Right now all I have is 1M down, 300k up, for about US$30 a month. The problem is: about 90% of my city has at leas 10M down for cheaper. But since I live in a poor community there is no "need" to poll the last 1KM of cables, to build something for the demand. Who cares about a few hundred people with low income? Build cell towers? Again, why? To.. give internet for the poor? Who cares?? My hope was project baloon, or anything that I could pa
  • sure, you could use balloons or crowdfunding but can we just stick to the tried and true scientific method. For example, Ive successfully distributed internet to several cities by strapping cellphones to squirrels with a roll of duct tape. Sometimes ill see them in trees (they do this to gain the best signal.) All youve gotta do is shout your http request to them, for example, "download the latest memes, squirrel!" simple really.

    Another method ive tried for more remote locations, small rural towns,
    • That works OK but it's really better if you ship old AOL disks to squirrels, as there is a much greater supply of them than cellphones, plus they get some ridiculous number of hours to start with.

  • This is quite literally a "down-to-earth" solution when compared to balloons, drones and satellites.

  • Dangit. They might just accomplish that by the time I've got my dark-matter well gravity controlled pulsar transponder system up and running with an IPN packet relayed to and from earth with only a 560 year latency.

  • by ( 3412475 ) on Wednesday September 16, 2015 @12:52PM (#50533673)
    Google, Facebook, or even Elon Industries know that. They aren't really trying to look cool while doing public service. They know the problem with a ground-based solution is neither lack of technology nor environmental. The problem is actually scale: when you start projects based on premises such as "universal", "ubiquitous", "unlimited" or "free/cheap", not even big companies can supply all of those due to obvious political reasons, such as those that bolster fair competition. Let's consider major gov'mt lobby poker Google, for instance - if they decided to extend their internet providing services to wireless in the US alone, they would pretty much have to spend billions to topple AT&T's (among others) influence on the administration. It would just make it too costly to actually provide the "free/cheap" service, and would probably imply restrictions to the other two as a trade-off, becoming effectively not "universal" nor "ubiquitous". They already have problems like that with Google Fiber (why are only some cities getting such a great service? You guessed right, existing cable company influence is blocking all newcomers on a political level), and wireless is just a much harsher market due to players being so well positioned. Now scale that to the entire world, with 200'ish countries to lobby. This goes without saying that quasi-orbital (and orbital) solutions such as balloons and satellites actually scale rather easily with minimal costs, even considering maintenance. Suffice to say, it is much easier to have this cool looking, bleeding edge solution that few will have the power to contest, due to universally acclaimed common good and obvious technological prowess (but eventually, stupid ways will be found for that, and stupid arguments will be made. Just look at Uber's case...).
  • So you're saying we shouldn't try new things? Drones and balloons both should be faster to implement. (after they get the first one to work)

    Satellite works pretty much everywhere now it just doesn't have capacity or low latency, and it isn't economical to users compared to any other solution.

    Drones and balloons (weather permitting) both have promise of low latency, better capacity and should be economical for the users when implemented over a large area.

    Hardwired connections are great for low latency, high

  • by gurps_npc ( 621217 ) on Wednesday September 16, 2015 @01:17PM (#50533899) Homepage
    When you build out the physical infrastructure, you get ancillary benefits. Roads for example. If you are laying out cable, in an area without roads, you have to build a road. This may be more expensive, but everyone around benefits from that road.
  • "And the business model is proven around the world."

    This is why he wants traditional methods. Control the wire, control the cost of the signal. using satellites, balloons, drones - they work with beams to a spot in the sky. who can control the beams? If someone other than the local bully . . . err telcom controls access to the 'net, their business model.

    Give me the ability to walk around my local telcom to get an internet feed from someone who ONLY does internet (not a subsidiary of an integrated tv/t
  • H..Who benefits by wired connections?
    the two monopolists, of course
    Why have nonsense claims about point-point wiring "superiority" save to protect the monopolies?
    But this is Capitalism, never forget that.
    And the whole POINT of Capitalism is establishing and protecting monopolists
    otherwise the dynastic inheritance based wealth class might find their gains shrinking.
  • (When internet access is available), it's often expensive. That's due in part to a lack of competition among providers - sounds familiar!

    We need to at least ensure that Comcast does not get any exclusive arrangements with government to build infrastructure, so that competitors that want to try are able to.

  • by NotDrWho ( 3543773 ) on Wednesday September 16, 2015 @02:37PM (#50534687)

    In most first world countries, no one ever digs up your lines or breaks into your relay facilities to steal the copper. Armed gangs don't demand bribes for building or digging on their turf. Local officials aren't constantly hassling you for kickbacks and no-show jobs for their friends. Your workers don't get robbed when they try to perform maintenance alone. Those are just SOME of the problems with building infrastructure in the third world.

  • by Atrox666 ( 957601 ) on Wednesday September 16, 2015 @04:41PM (#50535733)

    You lay cable/put up a cell tower in Africa, next morning it gets sold for scrap.
    You lay fiber optic cable, they dig it up for the copper. You relay fiber optic cable..they dig it up for the copper again. It doesn't really matter that there is none.

  • And none of these guys seem to have heard of Village Telco and the mesh potato... huh.

    Just run a wire from one house to anothe,r hook it up to one of these and plug a phone in. eventually someone plugs in a connection to the internet, and ALL of them have internet.

    What wire? what do you got? Works with twisted pair, ethernet, coax, and even wireless a bit. []

  • Out here in rural California, virtually all the counties on the Eastern edge of the state have limited (6 Mbps) or non-existant (70% of El Dorado County, where I live) Internet service. While I laud your plan to provide service in parts of the world not served at all, wouldn't it make sense to make sure that all United States citizens have service first?

    Our schools have little or no broadband. Our farmers and merchants have little or no broadband. Our local businesses can't expand markets. We have a sit

  • For a lot of the 3rd world countries, you'd make more social progress keeping the infrastructure out of the corrupt hands of the thugs running those countries. Balloons at 90,000 ft would be out of reach militarily for most of these places.

    A lot of places can't even get common sewers together because of corruption - internet infrastructure is a non-starter. Rulers control information to control power - they have no interest in an internet educated computer literate populace.

  • In 5 years I want my Tesla, solar panels and Musk Gigabit Internet.. The guy sure knows how to put dreams in your head.
  • Screw the third world, I want Google to break the cruise ship internet cartel. The third world can benefit as an added bonus, but I want Google high speed internet halfway across the Atlantic ocean. Wired internet isn't going to accomplish that. :p

In seeking the unattainable, simplicity only gets in the way. -- Epigrams in Programming, ACM SIGPLAN Sept. 1982