We all want more internet in more places. A logical person would assume that the stage is set to make this happen. Well, it’s not. As an internet builder myself, I can say yes, funding is an issue but that a bigger issue is there is no market to help build the internet. What do I mean?
I’ll use an analogy because it
simplifies things and takes the industry specific terminology off the table. We
want to build a house. We have nails but where do we find the wood? There is no
equivalent of a home hardware store to go to. Instead what we have are wood
piles placed all over the country sitting unused. How do we find the wood
piles? Who owns them? What kind of lumber is it specifically? (2×4? 2×6? Length?
Most first world governments do
supply funding but it is typically for building more of these hidden wood
What exactly are these “wood
piles”? They are “passive infrastructure” needed to build the internet. Things
like towers and cables (like fiber). And this infrastructure is shareable;
meaning they are more like a 40-story office tower than a single-family home.
The nails are active infrastructure like radio and cable transceivers which are
readily available. But where do you install these things if you don’t have any
passive infrastructure to install them on? That is the challenge of rural internet
There is TONS of empty
infrastructure across the nation but it is hard to find, figure out who owns it
and then to strike a deal in which to share it. Canada has a partial database
of passive infrastructure for towers called “Spectrum Direct” but adding
information about the towers is an afterthought. That is, it’s intended use is
to track wireless (spectrum) licenses and only collects data on where
the radio is as an afterthought. This doesn’t track any unlicensed wireless or “free”
wireless (which would you use?). Which means it doesn’t have data on towers for
10s of thousands of towers. Further, the database doesn’t validate the passive
infrastructure information and does not indicate ownership.
Sure, we could drive around
aimlessly in rural Canada but not all infrastructure is located along roads. And
even if you do find something, often times the infrastructure is physically
unmarked with ownership information.
I’ve located a partial commercial
database, but again, it doesn’t capture everything and plus, it costs money. Consumers
and businesses do not want to spend a lot of money on internet, so there isn’t
a lot of money to pay for extras like this when building rural internet.
USA has a bit better database
but it only tracks towers above 100’, nothing about smaller infrastructure,
private infrastructure or accessing cable. So I’ve come to the conclusion that the
situation is similar in most first world countries (with 2nd and 3rd
just having bigger problems to solve).
What we need is a marketplace for passive infrastructure and policy to make sure everyone registers. Like a “rentfaster” site for building the internet.
Some sort of sharing policy that
would apply to private passive infrastructure would also be nice but I’d settle
for a marketplace. Beggars can’t be choosers.