Beyond Broadband, Beyond Borders
By Howard Baldwin, Contributing Columnist
If you look at a digest of broadband news — as I frequently do in search of story ideas — it’s clear that broadband adoption is taking off. Google search a country name and “broadband,” and you’re more than likely to get an article proclaiming that its government, grasping the economic value of high-speed connectivity, is funding, or considering funding deployment to serve both its urban and rural citizens.
With more countries making that commitment, the world is truly creating what Cisco calls the borderless network.
But what happens when broadband is everywhere? The geographical advantages that used to support great cities – such as rivers or railroads – have faded. People are realizing that they can work anywhere.
Facebook Co-Founder Eduardo Saverin, a native of Brazil, reportedly renounced his U.S. citizenship to save on capital gains taxes after the IPO and moves to Singapore, Industry analyst Rob Enderle is building a second home/retirement home in Belize, but he will still be connected. Though he writes that technology may be an issue, it sound as though he has enough contingency plans that he won’t be digitally stranded.
I am neither as wealthy as Saverin nor as ambitious as Enderle, but I do have a fantasy of taking a one-year post-retirement swing around the world, getting familiar with one city each month for twelve months. Recently while I was wondering how to pay for it, a friend suggested I do it before I retire.
The fact is, it’s innately possible for me to do interviews via Skype or mobile phone, and file stories electronically. The biggest gating factor would be keeping track of time zones, and that’s what www.timeanddate.com is for. If everyone has broadband, and broadband provides a tide that lifts all boats, then economically, the world becomes more equal.
People can work in Vienna, Virginia or Vienna, Austria. They can work in Hobart, Oklahoma, or Hobart, Tasmania. By the way, we’re looking forward to your stories, Lionel Walters.
All the Freedoms that You Can Imagine
But even bigger than the economic ramifications are the political ramifications. Connectivity leads to communication, and communication sometimes leads places totalitarian governments don’t like. Consider the historical context: The invention of the printing press led to the Enlightenment, while television broadcasts from the West helped provoke the fall of the Berlin Wall.
This isn’t idealistic mumbo-jumbo. In a recent issue of Time, its editors wrote, “As broadband spreads, more foreign media firms are peddling press freedom.” The article cited multiple examples:
- In China, notorious for government-controlled access, microbloggers are protesting on state-controlled news sites
- Brazil recently enacted a whole new spate of free press laws
- In Russia, younger citizens turning to the Internet for impartial news
- In Egypt, the Arab Spring uprisings have spawned a whole new media market
The article also cites increasing press freedom is increasing in a number of other countries, including India, South Africa, and Turkey.
What will broadband lead to next? It’s clearly hard to give citizens freedom of communication without also giving them freedom of speech. Freedom of speech underscores a whole lot of other freedoms that the U.S. constitution protects: freedom of religion, right of free assembly, freedom to speak against the government. I’m not suggesting that we replicate the U.S. government with all its dysfunctions across the world, but the freedoms embodied in its constitution are worth promulgating.
Beyond the democracy that the constitution promises is another freedom, generally promised by capitalism. That’s the freedom to work. Many first-world countries today worry about unskilled labor infiltrating their borders, but they have no such concerns about skilled labor.
An ancillary benefit of broadband besides communication is education. A citizenry’s ability to gain a well-rounded education and practical skills provides liberation in and of itself, a freedom to learn and thrive without having to uproot oneself and one’s family.
Broadband could have no better legacy.