Closing The Digital Divide – Fiber vs. Wireless

Closing The Digital Divide – Fiber vs. Wireless

(Please note that although this blog clearly promotes the build out and use of fiber for the vast majority of our Internet and Telecommunications needs, the author in NO way supports the use of this fiber for the build out of wireless small cells. Hopefully, as people become more informed about the harms of wireless, innovations will increasingly make use of safe, fast, reliable, energy efficient and cyber secure fiber. Not wireless.)
Most everyone agrees that, like electricity and phone, the Internet is now a public necessity. The Federal Communications Commission states, “Broadband has gone from being a luxury to a necessity for full participation in our economy and society.”  But Telecom won’t deliver on it – at least not to everyone.
High speed Internet, aka fiber, is costly and somewhat cumbersome to build, so the private sector has now shifted to peddling 5G. Instead of installing the promised fiber we have already paid for through rate increases and taxes, Telecom is rolling out fiber only to utility and light poles in urban and suburban areas and then spraying the data through the air on a panoply of frequencies. Why? Because it’s cheaper and easier for them. Never mind the harms to us and the planet, and no worries about closing the digital divide
People in rural America are stuck with a choice between wireless hot spots, satellite, DSL or dial-up, none of which provide reliable “high speed Internet.”  And even 5G is too costly to extend to these areas – at least it is without big government subsidies and incentives.
“After years of waiting, it is now evident that ‘left to their own devices’, companies will gouge the rich, leave out the poor, cherry-pick markets and focus solely on their profits. It isn’t evil, it’s just the way things work.” Susan Crawford

Why Don’t We Have Fiber Yet?
The over-arching reason we lag behind other countries in providing fiber, is that our government believes a free market should drive the development of technology. In the words of the current FCC chairman Ajit Pai “The market, not government, is best positioned to drive innovation and investment.”  So essentially, as stated by Harvard law professor, Susan Crawford, “The mega-utility of the 21st century officially has no regulator.”
Since no one is really overseeing these companies, and scrutinizing the books, there’s quite a bit of wiggle room…and wiggling they’ve done as Bruce Kushnick has documented for many years. And they’ve wiggled all the way from delivering fiber-to-the-premise to essentially reneging on these contracts and pushing wireless instead. This includes the unfettered deployment of 4G/5G “small” cell antennas in front of our homes.
So if the private sector isn’t stepping up to the plate to deliver on fiber, municipalities can build their own publicly owned fiber network. But just a minute. Hold on. That’s not so easy either. Unfortunately, Telecom’s got these bases covered as wellAs of 2018, twenty states have laws that discourage publicly owned fiber networks. And this includes discouraging even public/private partnerships, which when well planned, can be a win/win for all parties: the city, the partnering telecom company, and the public as described here.
Whereas the FCC’s Connect America Fund provides money to the private sector to deliver high speed Internet to under-served areas, to the best of my knowledge, nothing of the kind is being offered to municipalities, alone or in partnerships, to help build a fiber network. Furthermore, when the FCC did give an exemption from state laws that prohibit municipalities from building their own fiber network, the exemption was shot down by a court ruling. As stated in Dividing Lines, “Big Telecom and their friends in state and federal legislatures are finding creative ways to keep the status quo.”
Defining Our Terms – Motte and Bailey Strategy?
What is meant by bringing “high speed Internet” to rural areas? Local communities and many others understand it to mean building a complete fiber network to all homes, businesses, and farms. Telecom and our government aren’t as clear about what exactly this means, which is a problem.
The powers that be identify something most people can agree on: High speed Internet should be accessible to all – which many of us understand to mean we should all have access to fiber. But then industry/government switch to something more controversial and not equivalent at all, and maintain we all need 4G/5G wireless densification in front of our homes.
Promises are cheap and Telecom throws them about quite freely. The current one is that 5G will bring high speed connectivity to rural areas. But (thankfully for those living in the country) that’s just PR to get regulations rolled back for the launch of 5G in cities. There are, however, other “fixes” being offered in rural America such as wireless “hot spots”, WiFi on school buses, or even satellite, but none of these will do because fiber and wireless are not equivalent or interchangeable services. 
Fiber is great for fixed locations such as a home or a business. (Though not recommended, a WiFi connection, can be used for mobility within the premises.) Fiber is the ideal medium for streaming videos or for remote surgery (were someone to want it) as fiber is super fast, safe, and reliable. 
Wireless can be used when out and about for short on-the-go communications, and texting, but is poorly suited for video streaming due to the huge energy consumption of wireless, and is not reliable enough for remote surgery.

“Fiber is safer, faster, more reliable, and far more energy efficient and cyber secure than wireless.” Ronald M. Powell Ph.D.

Beyond the different uses for fiber and wireless, there are other core differences that make fiber far superior to wireless. Fiber has virtually unlimited bandwidth and once laid, can last decades with little to no maintenance. But more importantly, thousands of scientific studies show adverse health effects from wireless and hundreds of  studies show harm to wildlife as well. (For more on health please see the Scientific Literature tab on the following website,)

So when our government drafts laws to subsidize putting Wi-Fi on school buses so children can do their homework, this is a clear example of conflating fiber with wireless as a means to bridge the digital divide. Wi-Fi on school buses is a far cry from providing fiber to the homes of these children. Not only would this ridiculous patchwork “fix” expose children to harmful radiation while enclosed in a metal box (think bus!) which greatly increases their exposure to radiation, but it would take away the few precious moments these kids still have in their day for real life, face-to-face communication with their peers. Similarly, 5G is a poor fix for rural America…or for that matter, for urban America as well.

We must bring health and the environment into the discussion of why fiber is far superior to wireless, or we may end up “closing the digital divide” by causing as much harm to those in rural America as those in cities are being subjected to now with 4G/5G densification. Bringing high speed broadband to rural America should not be about incentivizing the private sector through subsidies to bring 5G uniformly to all areas. It should be about delivering safe, fast, reliable fiber to everyone, everywhere.
We must expand our understanding and messaging about the benefits of fiber to not only include faster speeds and unlimited bandwidth, but to also include the fact that unlike wireless, which harms both people and wildlife, fiber is safe for all. 
By “closing the digital divide” we mean delivering safe, fast, and reliable fiber to all, and not offering makeshift and harmful solutions such as WiFi on buses, 5G, satellite, or wireless hot spots. 
Armed with the understanding of these additional benefits of fiber, we can add our voices to the growing number of people and organizations around the country seeking to close the digital divide. We can strengthen their platform and “clean-up” their messaging.
We don’t just want any kind of high speed Internet for all. We want fiber which is safe for us and for the planet. And who knows, perhaps, this message will trickle out, and people everywhere – both in cities and in rural areas –  will begin to use fiber for the vast majority of their Internet and Telecommunications needs, reserving wireless for short, on-the-go communications. And soon we will all be wise enough to not buy “smart” things. And good riddance to 5G!!