Tuesday, September 07, 2004

Open Systems? Mixed Systems?

A ProFiber first: Blogging our own story. Mike's recent open systems story has inspired a lot of interesting conversation between us that always seems to be interrupted by real life. It looks like it might be easier to talk here—and maybe we can involve others in a conversation that we'd like to see more folks having. ....Join in!

Mike pushes hard for considering a open systems model for any Lafayette fiber optic project. His point is built on history: open systems have historically been the engines of new development. Closed systems have a strong tendency to become dependent on their cash cow. The Bells, for instance on telephony, and the cables on video bundles. They not only aren't very good at anything else but are tempted to suppress new developments which, no matter how lucrative in the future, might supress short-term earnings.

Taking a look at the story it's hard to argue with the basic principle. Open systems are, all things being equal, more likely to foster innovation. But that might not be the only thing we value; other things might not be equal.

It's worth recognizing that were it anyone other than LUS we wouldn't bother with this conversation: BellSouth and Cox are firmly committed to continuing as closed monopolies; there is no chance they will ever open their networks voluntarily. LUS might, if convinced it would be of service to the community, so the conversation is worth having.

And the difference between LUS's and Cox/BellSouth's motivation in this points to a real issue: is LUS considering fiber to set the stage for dynamic development and economic growth or is it in it to provide cheap, reliable, locally controlled utility services to our community? Mike's work suggests that they might not be fully compatible motives.

My guess is that, whether compatible or not in some theoretical sense, both the community and LUS want both. The question is whether innovation and service can be reconciled and if so how?

I'd be tempted by this path: Decide that present, well-established telecom services are like water or the roads. For those follow the utility model: universal access and cheap, community-driven pricing. But build big overhead into the system and make sure the connection at the house can handle really huge bandwidth. Wholesale that enormous extra bandwidth to innovators (giving preference, perhaps, to local folks) to develop other services or to find unique ways of integrating the basic services. (Remember video phones?)

Use the old services to build and pay for the network for as long as they last. And pledge the excess bandwidth to open system principles. Such a system would be neither open nor closed: a mixed system.


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