Susan Crawford of Harvard explains the import of universal access to fiber



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If you ask Susan Crawford, the biggest technology problem the US faces is not electoral interference, privacy, smartphone-addicted teens, or market dominance, like Facebook, Google and Amazon.

Instead, it involves something much more fundamental: the cables by which Americans connect to the Internet. The vast majority of citizens and cities in the United States do not have access to ultra-fast fiber optic connections. Instead of fast fiber optic lines, most Americans have slow and expensive Internet access to world standards, says Crawford.

This is likely to exacerbate already exacerbated inequities in the country and leave the US economy in a competitive competitive position with other countries, such as China, said Harvard Law School Professor Harvard and expert in a recent interview with Business Insider.

But it could also mean that millions of Americans will miss significant improvements in health, education and employment, she said.

Access to fiber optic Internet connections is "the most fundamental technological problem," said Crawford, comparing it to electrification. "It's really a story about economic growth and social justice," she said.

"The United States does not have a plan"

Crawford wrote this story in a new book called "Fiber: The Next Technological Revolution – and Why America Could Miss It." The book details how the United States has lagged behind other countries in the race for fiber optic networks for their citizens, and discusses what Crawford should do to catch up.

The fact that the United States lags behind other countries is obvious to anyone who has already visited other countries pushing fiber optic networks, such as South Korea, the United States, the United States, and the United States. Japan and Sweden, said Crawford. And this could soon be followed by others. China plans to connect 80 percent of the country's homes to fiber optics, she said. As part of its "Belt and Road" initiative, China also plans to connect its country with dozens of others with high speed fiber optic data highways.

In contrast, only about 13% of Americans have access to fiber optics at home – and even fewer have subscribed to the service. While some communities and companies have advanced fiber optic deployment in a number of regions, the United States has no strategy at the national level to provide all citizens with a service close to home. universal service of optical fiber.

"The United States does not seem to have a plan," she said.

Fiber has big advantages over older technologies

As Crawford says in "Fiber," Crawford explains that fiber optic lines differ markedly from the old types of cables used by the vast majority of Americans to connect to the Internet. Unlike telephone lines and coaxial cables, which transmit electron data over copper wires, optical fiber lines are made of glass and use lasers to transmit data via photons of light.

The lack of universal access to fiber optic Internet connections is the main technology issue facing the United States, said Susan Crawford, a professor at Harvard Law School's Law School.
Susan Crawford

This physical difference gives fiber lines multiple advantages over older competitors. As Crawford discusses in his book, the potential capacity of a fiber optic cable is virtually unlimited. Several signals can be sent simultaneously on the same wire if they are sent using lasers of slightly different frequencies.

Fiber lines can also last for decades without requiring much maintenance. They can be upgraded easily; to give them more capacity, operators simply need to exchange the electronic components that transmit the signals. They are immune to the types of interference that can thwart copper lines. the signals sent over can go for miles and miles without needing any kind of acceleration.

But the main advantages of fiber optic lines are that they can offer much faster Internet speeds than traditional lines and, unlike most standard broadband connections, they can provide the same fast transmissions for downloads and downloads. , according to Crawford. This latter feature can actually enhance the power of fiber optic users because it can transform their use of the Internet. Instead of the data network being more like television, where data flows mainly in one direction, from central distributors to consumers, it allows citizens to become creators on the network in a truly equal way.

High-speed symmetrical fiber connections can enable things like ultra-high-resolution videoconferencing, Crawford said. This technology is already used in Sweden to provide telemedicine to people living in rural areas away from doctors' offices and hospitals, allowing them to access quality home care, she notes in her book. . It is also used in Chattanooga, Tennessee – one of the few American cities to benefit from a near-ubiquitous fiber coverage – to allow students from a local Magnet school to control a video microscope at ultra high definition across the country, at the University of Southern California. experiences.

Without extended fiber optic networks, inequalities could worsen

But fiber connections could be used to do a lot more in the future, Crawford said. Students can use them to get the technical training they need, whether it's advanced manufacturing work or veterinary clinic positions, through glasses and virtual reality gloves or augmented, or other devices offering a feeling of touch. They could be used to provide psychiatric care to people living in isolated areas or to the elderly. They could also be used to attract high-paying, high-tech companies to economically disadvantaged areas.

"There are so many things we are talking about in America today that are actually only possible with fiber," Crawford said.

Conversely, without universal access to fiber optic lines, the problems facing the country in terms of income and opportunity inequality and the resulting political polarization are likely to worsen, she said in her book. Much of American life – applying for a job, for example, or interacting with government agencies – already requires an Internet connection. In the future, those without fiber optic connections could be left behind.

Even worse, the applications developed for these high-speed fiber networks and the companies that rely on these networks, and all the jobs that go with them, will probably not be located in the United States if these networks are not. widely available here, says Crawford. Instead, these applications, businesses, and jobs will be created elsewhere.

"This means that the breakthrough has progressed, that the new industries will not be American and that our people will feel at the same time hopeless," she said.

Decision makers dropped the ball

The United States is facing this problem because decision makers have largely left the deployment of broadband networks to commercial enterprises, she said in her book. Although fiber optic networks may be cheaper and more profitable in the long run than traditional copper wires, their construction is expensive and companies and their investors have avoided the costs associated with setting up a network. a universal service network.

Optical fiber cabling.
Shutterstock

The two largest telephone companies, Verizon and AT & T, have replaced some of their copper wires with fiber optic lines, but both have largely focused on their wireless business instead of fixed broadband, explains Crawford in his book. The big cable companies have been striving to provide hybrid networks, mostly fiber optic to the neighborhoods, and then rely on their coaxial cables to go to subscribers, believing that that was enough, she wrote.

Despite the promise of the telephone companies in particular to deploy fiber optically on a large scale, the decision makers have left these companies a lot of leeway to avoid such implementations, generally adopting a non-interventionist approach of the broadband access market and counting as "broadband" internet connections. slow compared to global standards, she writes.

Decision makers have also advanced the idea that wireless Internet connections are an adequate substitute for wired connections, Crawford said. But they are not, she says.

Compared to US wired broadband, wireless connections tend to be slow and expensive. While future 5G – or fifth generation – wireless networks promise much faster speeds, they will need many more transmitters than previous wireless networks to provide such bandwidth. And each of these transmitters is going to need a fiber optic connection behind him, Crawford said.

Read it: 5G wireless service arrives, but do not expect to overload your smartphone's Internet

The only way to get the United States back on track is for national decision-makers to give top priority to connecting all users in the country to fiber optic networks, she said. They need to adopt a series of regulatory changes to encourage the large-scale deployment of such networks by both companies, governments and local governments.

"The risk is that without much political intervention, we get the same world we have now," she said.

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