Friday, October 22, 2010

Making fiber to premises a reality requires consumers to think like business owners

Much has been written on this blog and elsewhere about market failure and the urgent need for alternative business models to speed deployment of fiber to the premises telecom infrastructure. Most of it has been centered on market economics and technology.

However, a fundamental change in thinking must occur if these alternative business models are to come to fruition and bring the services people need now and in the future as bandwidth demand grows exponentially. People must think of themselves as not just consumers but also as owners.

Consumer cooperatives were formed in the U.S. a century ago to provide voice telephone service where investor owned telcos could not make a business case to provide service. Now that the telephone network is being replaced by the Internet, the time is at hand for the revival of this business model.

While coops offer significant structural cost savings that can make the business case pencil out for deploying an open access fiber to the premises network, those advantages cannot be realized until consumers think of themselves not just as a consumers but also as a business owners since a coop is a business, albeit owned by its customers. Being an owner requires doing diligence and assuming some degree of risk and not just asking what the coop may be able to provide them personally and at what price.

Without this shift in thinking, consumers will continue to be at the mercy of the incumbent telcos and cable companies and what services they choose to provide (or not provide as is often the case) and forced to pay whatever they want to charge for them in order to earn a return for their shareholders. Rather than benefit remote shareholders who could care less who gets fiber to the premises in their communities, it's time for consumers to say "enough" and take control of their telecommunications service.

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