Jared Kushner Might Now Be Our Best Hope for World-Class Internet

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Contributor to @backchnnl; prof @Harvard_Law; books (#TheResponsiveCity, #CaptiveAudience); all things tech & Internet
5 days ago

Jared Kushner Might Now Be Our Best Hope for World-Class Internet

Trump’s son-in-law knows all about smart infrastructure. Here’s the plan he should push.

Those who urge progressive tech policy have no more ideas than anyone about how the surprise results of the 2016 election will affect the issues about which they care the most.

But in one area, I see reason for hope.

Donald Trump and his colleagues are reportedly warming to the idea of an infrastructure bank, although we don’t have much information about how that bank would operate. We do know that we don’t want the “third world” of today’s LaGuardia Airport — a talking point on which Trump and Vice President Joe Biden are in heroic agreement.

I have some specific suggestions for how that bank (or a system of regional or state infrastructure banks) could genuinely drive economic growth in the US.

We need to use that bank to back only infrastructure that is “smart” infrastructure—in other words, wired for fiber optic internet connectivity. Only then can we achieve the kind of integrated, ubiquitous, open-access, high-speed networks that can be used to manage the energy we use, the water we drink, and the transport we depend on; it’ll also allow us to get cheap, virtually unlimited, competitively offered data flowing to and from every home, business, school, hospital, and government building in the country.

Deployed for that purpose, an infrastructure bank or banks could nudge the country fully into the digital era as well as generate a host of new occupations. Because that’s what we need, Mr. Trump: new occupations. Not just new jobs.

Jared Kushner, the soft-voiced, influential son-in-law of the President-elect, will understand these suggestions. (I respect Kushner; I met with him a few times to discuss connectivity issues in New York City.) After all, he and his team launched WiredScore.com, which labels commercial buildings across the country on the basis of their connectivity. He knows that where there are uncompetitive markets for data services, businesses suffer.

By all accounts, Kushner is an ambitious, highly intelligent man. So he will understand that we don’t, in fact, have a good story to tell (he’s also a newspaper publisher) when it comes to our country’s ability to ship huge amounts of data around at the low prices that people in many Asian and Nordic countries take for granted. We have a stagnant, uncompetitive market for high-capacity data flows, controlled by a handful of enormous companies that are milking the status quo. Americans pay far too much for second-rate service because of failures in policy over the last several years.

If we could see this picture, if the state of connectivity were visible to us, it would look as bad as LaGuardia Airport looks to a tired traveler late at night. People in Seoul and Stockholm pay a fraction of what Kushner’s neighbors in New York City pay, for service that is many times faster. And in the rural places where many people voted for Trump, it’s particularly awful: 40 percent of people there are on the wrong side of the digital divide, which contributes in a big way to their sense that they’re being left behind and forced into voicelessness.

But it’s Kushner’s role as a developer that should make it particularly easy for him to understand the need for open, multipurpose, do-it-once infrastructure that forces competition into markets where it has withered. You don’t want to have dumb infrastructure—not these days. And no single company should be able to lock up access to anything essential that a building needs, charging whatever it wants for whatever shoddy service it decides to provide — the very problem that drove Kushner to think of WiredScore.

When you mention infrastructure, people think of bridges and roads. Well, those are multipurpose and no one can control them—that’s what makes them great. And today’s transformative infrastructure, equivalent in its importance to the railroads and highways of the past, is fiber and high-capacity internet access. We need it nearly everywhere, and in very near every house and business in the country.

If this bank were to require that any money it put at risk in support of infrastructure—either directly or in the form of guarantees—went only toward infrastructure that incorporated open (wholesale/dark) fiber networks that reached as close as possible to homes and businesses, and if we also were to require neutral interconnection points down every street, then our new president would get an enormous payoff for the country’s money.

We could have responsive (some say “smart”), sustainable energy management, finally. We could bring down the country’s healthcare costs, dramatically. We could enable public transport to be managed effectively using data analysis, thereby reducing pollution and adding economic value. We could monitor water quality and avoid wasteful leaks. We’d be able to reduce crime and blight. We’d generate new occupations in rural areas based on understanding information and people at a distance. And on and on and on.

It would be a genuine bang for your buck. That has to be something the president’s son-in-law and de facto consigliere can appreciate. And something that will actually make the infrastructure of America great again.

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    Susan Crawford

    Contributor to @backchnnl; prof @Harvard_Law; books (#TheResponsiveCity, #CaptiveAudience); all things tech & Internet

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