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Geoff Daily

App-Rising.com covers the development and adoption of broadband applications, the deployment of and need for broadband networks, and the demands placed on policy to adapt to the revolutionary opportunities made possible by the Internet.

App-Rising.com is written by Geoff Daily, a DC-based technology journalist, broadband activist, marketing consultant, and Internet entrepreneur.

App-Rising.com is supported in part by AT&T;, however all views and opinions expressed herein are solely my own.

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July 7, 2008 7:07 AM

America's Moonshot: A Full Fiber Nation

Last night while watching a few minutes of a documentary on the moon I had a revelation about the similarities between the gumption it took for America to win the race to be the first nation to put a man on the moon and the determination necessary to realize one of the most important and challenging goals of the 21st century: wiring our country with fiber.

First let's take a look at what it took to get Apollo off the ground.

- The Russians sent a probe that captured the first pictures of the dark side of the moon, which woke up America's competitive spirit to want to be first in the space race.

- John F. Kennedy used the power of the White House to unite and inspire the country behind the common goal of putting a man on the moon.

- The federal government committed itself to supplying whatever resources were needed, despite the huge cost.

- Average people became engrossed with the challenge and followed the progress closely, cheering our successes as America reestablished its preeminence in what was then the most important scientific field.

- In the end we accomplished our goal in less than a decade in spite of astronomical costs, tremendous complexities, and the doubt by many that this endeavor was both worthwhile and even feasible.

Now let's compare that to the push for fiber in this country:

- South Korea, Japan, and others have taken our position as global leaders in the Internet revolution, though this seems to be more of a concern among the academic elite than the average person.

- We've lacked any form of leadership in the White House to date, but at least we now have one presidential candidate in Barack Obama who's at least mentioning the goal of getting the highest possible speed broadband to every citizen in America.

- Our federal government can't seem to bring itself to commit more than a few billion dollars to deliver broadband to un- and underserved areas, let alone fiber everywhere.

- Most people acknowledge that the Internet is a pretty neat thing, and more people than ever have some understanding of the potential of fiber optics, but we're still a ways away from having all eyes across the nation trained on accomplishing the goal of a Full Fiber Nation.

- At this pace, it's going to take decades for us to accomplish even a shadow of the ultimate goal of a Full Fiber Nation.

What laid the groundwork for this entire line of thought was a comment made by Stan Fendley of Corning a couple of weeks ago at the event celebrating the release of Jim Baller's e-NC report. In his remarks while discussing the recent calls in Congress to establish the goal of a 100Mbps Nation, Fendley described this push as "America's Moonshot," and after learning more about the history of Apollo I can see just how apropos that characterization is.

The only way we will achieve any semblance of a Full Fiber Nation is if we tackle this challenge with the same unified energy as when America reached out to touch the moon 40 years ago.

Notice that I don't necessarily say "more" energy. In fact, the parallels in terms of necessary investment are kind of creepy. According to the documentary last night, to get the Apollo project going required the federal government to put up $25 billion, or roughly $150 billion in today's dollars. Now compare that to the $100 billion fund EDUCAUSE has called for to help fund the nationwide buildout of fiber.

And then compare that against the potential impact of both projects. While it can be hard to quantify the psychological impact of reaching the moon, and there's no denying that the space program has led to many innovations that have directly impacted average Americans, the reality is that at the time the decision was made to go to the moon it didn't seem like the most practical thing to be doing.

Some may feel the same way about getting fiber everywhere, but there's simply no denying that a Full Fiber Nation has the potential to impact people's lives much more quickly and directly then putting a man on the moon. In fact, uniting people with other people and connecting them to boundless information through advanced telecommunications is arguably the defining opportunity of the 21st century, just as space travel was for the 20th.

But all this being said, there's another parallel between Apollo and fiber that has me worried. While the initial push to the moon was a huge popular success, during subsequent missions the public's interest waned, so much so that by the end NASA was having to pay TV networks to cover their efforts.

I'm concerned that the same thing may have already happened with the Internet. There was so much hype back in the late '90s that even now in the face of truly revolutionary new opportunities powered by big broadband connectivity we seem to be facing a disturbing level of apathy among the general public.

The thing about getting a man on the moon is that it was an undeniably sexy challenge, like reaching the peak of a mountain or crossing some great body of water. No one really knew why they wanted it but everyone knew what they wanted: for America to be the greatest country on the planet.

If we are to muster the resources needed to retain or recapture that title through the deployment of fiber optics, we must find a way to reignite the passion of the American people to recognize the greatness of this country so that we might all stand up together and demand our government take on the challenge of reaching for the 21st century's moonshot: laying fiber to everyone everywhere.

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Comments (1)

Great argument for pushing things forward in a serious way. It seems like one of the biggest things we're missing today is the sense of urgency the country realized we were behind the Soviets.

Posted by Ed Kohler on July 20, 2008 2:51 PM

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