Fast, affordable Internet access for all.
Crazy Talk on Fiber Deployments - Episode 529 of the Community Broadband Bits Podcast
This week on the podcast, ILSR Senior Reporter and Editor Sean Gonsalves joins the show for another installment of Crazy Talk. Today's topic is fiber, with the two breaking down a recent op-ed in The Hill by Technology Policy Institute President Scott Wallsten. Christopher and Sean inject a much-needed reality check, as well as some nuance, to Wallsten's performative anxiety that public broadband subsidies supporting fiber optic deployments will leave rural America behind.
They talk about the broken history of regulation and accountability that "technology neutral" arguments like Wallsten's harmfully perpetuates, when fixed wireless networks do make sense to support, and the often-underappreciated work being done by local governments across the country to maintain fiber infrastructure that they've been using to serve their communities well for decades.
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Listen to other episodes here or view all episodes in our index. See other podcasts from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance here.
Thanks to Arne Huseby for the music. The song is Warm Duck Shuffle and is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution (3.0) license.
Christopher Mitchell (00:08):
Welcome to another episode of the Community Broadband Bits Podcasts. I'm Christopher Mitchell at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, and I'm here with Sean Gonsalves, the I L S R C B N, which is community broadband network's, team reporter, editor extraordinaire. And what else do you do, Sean?
Sean Gonsalves (00:27):
Christopher Mitchell (00:28):
That's right. Communications.
Sean Gonsalves (00:30):
And part of that most recently is a potential Twitter refugee.
Christopher Mitchell (00:35):
Okay. All right. So I think this is gonna run soon enough that we could just talk about this for a second. I did create a Mastodon account, but I haven't yet actually done anything with it. And I saw, in particular, I was listening to a tech show and, and there was talk about how much people on black Twitter were like, yes, no, we're not leaving. Like, we built this thing. We can't just like abandon this. It took years for us to build this up.
Sean Gonsalves (00:55):
That's right. That's right. Although I created a Mastodon account myself, and one of the first things that I did was do a search for hashtag black Twitter. Cause I saw a number of people on Twitter saying they were going there. and then I also saw another site that I haven't looked at yet that claims to be like, basically like black Twitter. I, I don't know much about it, but but you're right. I mean, you know, some folks, you know, are keeping, you know, doing a dual citizenship, which I guess is what I'm doing at the moment. And I created a Macedon account, haven't done much. I'm still sort of trying to get my bearings.
Christopher Mitchell (01:29):
I think that's how a lot of us feel. And I don't know. I kind of created it thinking there was a, like a small chance that I would really dig into it. And after what I'm seeing this week, I just feel like Twitter's going down. Like, it's just like, I mean, I'm surprised it hasn't had more technical problems, but I just have no faith that this is even gonna exist as a platform in two months. Like, I, I feel like that's a legitimate possibility now.
Sean Gonsalves (01:53):
Right. And as much as I complain about Twitter, and as much as I love to hate Twitter, it's like, I really hope it survives <laugh>.
Christopher Mitchell (01:58):
I almost never complain about Twitter. I think Twitter's great if you follow the right people. I mean
Sean Gonsalves (02:02):
Yeah, you're right. You're absolutely right.
Christopher Mitchell (02:04):
Yeah. The ability to just be able to hear, like, you know, to see like what's going on with Harold Feld, what he's thinking about, you know? Mm-hmm. <affirmative>. Mm-hmm. <affirmative> just so many, so many people that I find inspiring and interesting. you know, people that I wanna know what they're doing. you know, like, what, what are they written lately? it's, it's terrific.
Sean Gonsalves (02:22):
No, no doubt. No doubt. So I'm, I'm actually really rooting for whatever hope against hope that that Elon and and company are able to pull this thing from the brink and, and keep the lights on.
Christopher Mitchell (02:34):
Yeah. I would suffer some more of the Elon lovers if if it meant we get to keep Twitter. You know? Me too. I don't, I'm not invested in it. Failing to prove that he's awful. I already know that he's an
Sean Gonsalves (02:43):
Awful person. Right. Exactly. Person
Christopher Mitchell (02:44):
<laugh>, I like,
Sean Gonsalves (02:45):
Yeah. Yep. I, I feel the same. I feel the same.
Christopher Mitchell (02:48):
All right. So today, well, we're reviving once again crazy talk mm-hmm. <affirmative>, which is something that Lisa and I started back in the day. You and I had done a couple of episodes of although I, I was thinking that we might rename it. what <laugh> I think
Sean Gonsalves (03:03):
So. And, and just to be clear, when we say crazy talk, do we mean our <laugh>? Do we mean the stuff that we say
Christopher Mitchell (03:10):
<laugh>? Well, that's sort of the things that,
Sean Gonsalves (03:11):
Well, the stuff that we come across that we think is crazy,
Christopher Mitchell (03:13):
There are certainly, there are certainly people who think a lot of what I say is crazy. but it is responding not to the well formed and well-crafted opposition that we sometimes face where people are like, you know what? Like, I don't know if cities should do this. And I, you know, like, I wanna put forth realistic evidence and that sort of thing. It's more the people who are like, even Chattanooga failed. And it's like, no, like you don't, you don't know what you're talking about. Like, you're not even close. Like, you know, like it's not someone you can disagree with cuz it's just someone who's like a child that's just shouting, incoherent things into a megaphone mm-hmm. <affirmative> that the cable and telephone companies have put in front of their, their drooling little face.
Sean Gonsalves (03:52):
Mm-hmm. <affirmative>. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>.
Christopher Mitchell (03:53):
This is one that comes to us from the Hill, an op-ed that we're gonna respond to kind of paragraph by paragraph, I guess. Scott Wallsten who is a PhD and is very important because a lot of the people that the cable and telephone companies have employed over the years have impressive initials or, or abbreviations after their names that they have credible, they're very serious people. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>, Scott Wallsten been someone who has long been on the side of the, the telephone companies in particular. I think usually cable and telephone companies, I think of them as, and it's it's, it's called, there's too much fiber in our broadband diet. we'll talk about different arguments made throughout this, but like, this is one of those things that we keep hearing and we've been hearing for a long time. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>. so I don't know if you want to, if you wanna go first in terms of what do you think about the first few paragraphs? Like how do you react to this argument that like that we're just too focused on fiber at a policy level?
Sean Gonsalves (04:51):
Right. So, well, the first thing that comes to mind is, you know, the first line talks about, you know, we've all been told to put more fiber in our diet. So the first thing as a writer playing on words of fiber and Diet W was appealing. I'll never, I'll never do that again. Yeah.
Christopher Mitchell (05:06):
<laugh>, you've burned. Yeah. This one, this one in particular, Scott Wallsten , maybe he's always been more at the wireless companies. I, I get these people confused. They're not worth spending a lot of time on. but but this is obviously like, he's trying to just say that like, fiber's gonna be bad for rural America. Like, the focus on it and, and he starts off with this dumb, I'm, I'm tired of it. Whenever you do sort of the fiber food sat, you know, fiber thing, like, I, I'm, I kind of cringe a little bit, I'll be honest. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>, so I'm glad you're not gonna do it
Sean Gonsalves (05:32):
Anymore. <laugh>. No, I'll never do it again. <laugh>, especially after this, initially when I first started reading it, it, you know, my first impression was the sounds very much like the, I think it was what, 13 senators that sent a letter to the N T I A saying, you know you know, there's essentially trying to make this case that there's too much, the, the, that, you know, you, there's too much focus on fiber. It should be, you know, that that fund should be expended in a, a tech technology neutral mm-hmm. <affirmative>, I think is the term that they use. so that's actually what it kind of reminded me of. So right away it signaled to me that, you know, kind of, you know, where he was coming from with
Christopher Mitchell (06:07):
How old do you think that argument is?
Sean Gonsalves (06:09):
Well, even outside of broadband, you hear it all the time when it comes to government funding. so, you know, I'm gonna say a couple of decades
Christopher Mitchell (06:15):
Yeah. Often from people that have crappy technology. Right. <laugh>,
Like that's who makes argument, right. Is like, it's like our, our technology is not as good. Not always, like there's good reasons to have this argument in, in some ways, but this, this chases me and it chased me something fierce because I just remember, and it's more than 10 years ago, I feel like although it certainly reappeared in the intervening time, particularly with FCC Commissioner O'Rielly during battles about the Connect America Fund and Connect America Fund too and stuff like that, where his, his line was always, why are we trying to build people a Cadillac when we could give 'em a Chevy? And, and then, you know, they expended billions upon billions of dollars to get people Chevys and no one got a Chevy. right. So, like, this is like, there's just, there's several things that like irritate me about the beginning of this.
The first is this idea that Scott Walston gives a crap about anyone in rural America getting decent internet service. He does not mm-hmm. <affirmative>, if he did, he would be horrified at the way the telephone companies have misspent money that the FCC never should have given them to build better DSL out. Right. That's, that was the, the technology neutral argument before was let's shovel money at at and t and let's not pay attention to the technology because they know best at and t knows better than the government what people in Mississippi need. Right. And people in Mississippi got nothing, <laugh> and at and t got a quarter of a billion dollars.
Sean Gonsalves (07:43):
Well, you know, it's, it's, it's an inherently appealing argument. I mean there's, you know, it plays on this idea that obviously, you know, private, the private sector and private and the brilliant folks in the private industry just no more and better than these you know, technocrats or the bureaucrats in government and you know, leave it up to the experts. Kind of a
Christopher Mitchell (08:02):
Yeah. I mean, that's the thing though, is that like government sometimes has experts working for it, right? I mean, that's what I am it's what you are. It's what a lot of other folks are that have looked at this seriously and don't get enormous paychecks from companies that are trying to make billions of dollars while doing very little. And the thing that kills me about this is that if they had listened to us 10 years ago, we wouldn't be spending 42 and a half billion dollars today. We would be spending less because we would've built out good networks then. But instead we gave the money to the wrong people to build crap technology. And we are now resending money on those households. Those households have gotten, you know, per household hundreds or thousands of dollars to be upgraded in in the last 10, 20 years.
And those upgrades are not worth anything. Right. Like, it is not cutting the bill at all today. We are paying for those households in 20, in 2005. We're paying for them in 2015. We're paying for them in 2025 because we're not picking the good technology because we did not pick the good technology. Finally, we are, and those households are gonna get a technology that will not need to be subsidized in 2035, but this guy wants them to be subsidized in 2035 again, right? Mm. Because the market will be deciding in 2035 to do what to do with a hundred billion dollars we gotta put into it next time.
Sean Gonsalves (09:18):
Christopher Mitchell (09:19):
It's like these guys, these guys come off as like being like, we gotta be responsible with the public dollars. And I'm like, y'all are like spending the public dollars wastefully.
Sean Gonsalves (09:27):
Right? Right. I mean, right off the bat, right In the second paragraph you just talked about the, that, you know, sort of this focus on fiber runs the risk of cost overruns and delayed buildout. But it's like, I mean, that that's true of anything
Christopher Mitchell (09:38):
Sean Gonsalves (09:38):
Mm-hmm. <affirmative> of, of of, of any pro of any project. There's always a risk of cost overruns and delayed buildout. So I don't, I don't know why that he doesn't explain why that only relates to fiber builds. Yeah.
Christopher Mitchell (09:49):
No, I mean, people in Mississippi have been waiting for, at this point, some of them eight years maybe you know, certainly five, six years for at and t to do his DSL build out that was supposed to be fast. And many of them didn't. Never got it. So, so then he moves on to Futureproof, and this is another thing that gets my goat, like, he is like, he's like, well, it's not futureproof cuz like in a million years it probably won't be there. Right. Because that's what you, when Sean, you love talking about future proof. I argue with you sometimes about how
Sean Gonsalves (10:17):
You use. Right, right. I, i, I throw that word around a lot. You're right. But, you know. Right. But the idea that somehow something isn't future proof because it's not immortal or it won't last, you know, forever or into eternity is pretty ridiculous on the face of it. Yeah. You know, it's sort of like, you know, you know, you have to look at these things in comparison to, in, in comparison to what. Right. you know, so, so I guess in that sense, the, the term future proof does sort of invite those kind of criticisms for those who think that, you know, you're scoring points by pointing out that, well, not forever, it won't last for a million years, or it won't last for, you know, 200 years. But, you know, the real question is, does it last longer than o other? That's actually the more, more important question. And, and there isn't a real debate about that.
Christopher Mitchell (11:02):
Yeah, no. He talks about how like, oh, like fiber's got a shelf life for 25 years, not really sure what shelf life has to do with it. Cuz like it's in the ground like <laugh>, you know, it's on the poles. Like he talks about how like things can happen with different temperatures and stuff like that. And that's true. But we also know that like a lot of that fiber that's out there is more than 25 years old. I mean at this point it's 2022, it's nearly 2023, which boggles my mind. <laugh>. Yeah. But you know what that means? That means that the fiber that was put in the ground as part of the.com boom is 25 years old.
Sean Gonsalves (11:35):
Christopher Mitchell (11:36):
It's still being used. So I guess tomorrow it has to be retired like <laugh>. Right.
Sean Gonsalves (11:41):
Christopher Mitchell (11:43):
And so I just, I I I drive this nuts, but let's just assume for a second he was right. Okay, let's say it's 25 years. Let's compare the cost of building that 25 year network against whatever he wants to do with wireless in these areas. And let's compare the full life cost of that fiber network over 25 years versus the wireless cycle that he wants to use instead and see what's more economical. And, and I'm gonna guess that in the vast majority of cases, fiber will be more economical than having to rebuild that wireless network between I would say over 25 years. You probably got what, between four and seven network rebuilds, depending, maybe people might say that's aggressive. Like maybe it's only if you, if you wait a real long time, maybe it's only, I think three years is hard to imagine. Like, I think you're rebuilding that network four times if it's wireless over 25 years mm-hmm. <affirmative>
Mm-hmm. <affirmative>, I'm not an expert. Maybe someone will, you know, on connect this connect this like, you know, we'll maybe someone will come on and tell me that that I'm underestimating that. But I mean, this guy, like, I don't even think, first of all, I don't think Scott Walston knows anything about this technology like <laugh>, you know, I think he's just repeating stuff again like, like a child. but he gets over this and then he says that fiber to the premise happens to be the most expensive in time and labor intensive way to deliver connectivity. It's $40,000 per mile. but you know, we could do fixed wireless or starlink. it's way more cost effective to connect rural Americans. Now do you think that that in his home when his chil children are going to school, that he's on starlink or fixed wireless?
Sean Gonsalves (13:20):
Yeah, absolutely not.
Christopher Mitchell (13:21):
I would not expect that he was. Most of the people who want to talk about how great those things are are themselves on a fiber network or a DOCSIS three one cable network in the beltway. Right. They're not working from fixed wireless. They're certainly not on a fixed wireless network that doesn't work very well, which is sometimes the case. some of the fixed wireless networks are really great. Some of them are downright awful.
Sean Gonsalves (13:41):
Right. You know, too often these kind of arguments are made by folks in that situation where, you know, it's, it inherently implies, you know, I've got what I need. And you know, for, for those who don't, you know, you know, l l let's give them bargain basement type stuff and, and, and, you know, and then kind of say, Hey, it's good enough.
Christopher Mitchell (13:59):
Absolutely. And not just that, but ignoring the costs Right. Of starlink, it's a hundred bucks a month. It's a hundred bucks a month, it's maybe 110 bucks a month now, who knows what it's gonna be soon. Particularly with the pressures that that's going on. I mean, who even knows if in a year Elon Musk companies exist in the way that they do today?
Sean Gonsalves (14:18):
Right. Right. There's a lot of, well, and also, I mean, you say a hundred dollars a month, but that's after like what, what, isn't it like something like 600 bucks to
Christopher Mitchell (14:25):
Yeah. 600 bucks to get started. And I, and I think that, you know, to, to give this guy credit, he's probably saying that like sure, you know, like over 25 years that's gonna be, what's that gonna be like $30,000? Cuz that's what like 110 bucks a month, that's like 1300 bucks a year. So, I mean, you're looking at like, with that startup costs and everything between 25 and $30,000. I mean, and even probably like, I mean, if we're talking about 25 years inflation and whatnot, I mean, I'm not gonna do the net present value calculation, but like you're looking at like, on the order of $30,000, suddenly I'm talking myself out of this. Like, it's insane to think that we should be subsidizing starlink for that period of time. <laugh>.
Sean Gonsalves (15:04):
Christopher Mitchell (15:05):
Dang, we gotta get these people, I mean, you know what John Chambers charges on the, the fiber networks he's building with all those rural electric co-ops, it's like 60 bucks a month. So I mean, I guess the proper calculation is like, is like what, 40 bucks a month difference of subsidy in theory mm-hmm. <affirmative>, you know and so that's about a thousand dollars a year. no, it's $500 a year. Sorry. So it's more like a 10 20 10 to $12,000 subsidy over 25 years. still that's, that's a hack of a subsidy to be committing to rather than just getting it done. Right. There are homes that will cost 20, $30,000 to connect. They are few and far between most homes averaged out, I mean, I haven't run the numbers on this, but I'm gonna guess that we're looking at like 2,500. No, I think of like 35, 400, 4 3500 to 4,000 maybe. But like, it could be down like, I think 2,500 is more like suburbs.
Sean Gonsalves (15:55):
right, right, right. Yeah.
Christopher Mitchell (15:56):
Yep. But like in the more rural areas, but you still like average together like a lot of these in the electric footprints. I don't think you're looking at like an average of 10 K. you know, it will depend on where you are maybe in Wyoming. But but like, you know, South Carolina, your costs are, are not gonna be like anywhere near that. you know, in rural areas, I don't think. And
Sean Gonsalves (16:15):
What, you know, see, here's the thing too, and I, and I, you know, I, I know that in writing these kind of op-ed things or whatever, there's always like space constraints. You can't put in everything. But one of the sort of cardinal rules of, of, of, of journalism, at least as as I was taught is, is is the all important of context. And so when you're talking about where he says on, on average the cost of laying fiber is over 40,000 per mile, it would be nice to include the cost per mile is of building other kinds of infrastructure like bike paths or, or roads or transmi, you know, electric transmission lines. And that happens a lot in this space when it comes to talking about fiber networks, is that it's often discussed without putting in that all important context of how in expensive things are for other types of infrastructure that no one ever says municipalities or cities or, or should, should not be building.
Christopher Mitchell (17:07):
Yes. So that's a terrific point, and I would just raise you one by saying the other cost that people never consider is what is the cost of these kids in rural areas, or these kids in cities and suburbs who don't have an internet connection, whether that's because of infrastructure or whether that's because of affordability or some other issue. What is the cost to them for those, you know, what is our lifetime cost to children that are not well educated because they don't have opportunity? Right. And many of them, I shouldn't say many of them, some number of them will correctly recognize society doesn't care about them. And they'll be like, why should I care about society? And they're gonna go off and engage in criminal enterprises, right. Like, I feel like exactly. A fair amount of that comes from people who are like, I gotta mine because nobody cares about me. No one's looking out for me. And when you grow up and you know that people have these like wonderful opportunities around you and you don't, it poisons your soul when we don't have that kind of, that kind of equal access.
Sean Gonsalves (18:02):
Right. And it's so, which is why it's sort of ironic or whatever that, you know, he talks about sort of the myopia focusing at on fiber, but there's this there is a real myopia when you're doing sort of a cost benefit analysis the way he's laying out here that doesn't take into those, those those kind of factors that you're, that you're pointing to. You know, it also strikes me now that I'm looking at this as well, you know, he spends a little bit of time talking about sort of the natural degradation of fiber networks over time. The, the real issue is, is not whether or not there's degradation over time or or whether or not things need to be fixed down the road. The question is more, you know, a comparison of well, that's also true of other networks and what kind of de degradation do you see in those other networks, and how much more expensive is it to fix in a comparative sense? Right. A real thrust of, I think of this piece too is just talking about how costly and silly it, it it probably is to build out fiber, particularly in rural communities. You know, he sort of says, you know, in more densely populated areas Yes. But in rural communities it's not really the, the way to go and it doesn't really work. North Dakota, South Dakota Yeah. Is pretty well fibered is, is my understanding. Am I right? Yeah.
Christopher Mitchell (19:14):
So one of the, one of the things that I feel like this presupposes is that N T I A is going to force people to use fiber, but that's of course not how this is structured. States will be deciding a point at which where the cost per home is deemed to be too high. And that's gonna be different in different states based on the state's subjective you know, decision about what, what is too much At that point, they will be able to use other technologies. and, you know, I feel like I'm one of those people that's often accused of being fiber only and I'm not. we talk about this frequently and on the connect this show we we talk about how a sensible policy in some cases is certainly to build out fixed wireless to some areas in order to get them something quickly.
this is what RS Fiber did in Minnesota, and I'm still very supportive of that approach. but I want that to be done by a company that is not going to milk that market. I want it done by a company that will be responsive as their needs grow. And as you have time and capacity to build fiber out to people that that happens, because that is fundamentally the, the most economically responsible decision if we're thinking about this over multiple decades. Mm-hmm. <affirmative> people like Scott Walston, I just feel like they're so focused on like what will keep the companies that support them, what will keep their stock price high over the next several years. They're not thinking about 20 or 30 years in the future. They don't care, you know? Right. What's happening.
Sean Gonsalves (20:47):
And unfortunately they don't really have to, I mean, especially the way this type type of stuff works, the attention span on, on sort of these kind of debates is very short.
Christopher Mitchell (20:55):
Yeah. I mean, I just, I, I hesitate to think what the United States would look like today if, if Scott Walston was the one who was like, ah, this internet, this interstate thing is a fad. Right. <laugh>. and I, and I say that knowing that some people might be like, well, we could do with fewer interstates. I think that that's true. We are, we are too much of a car culture, but it also supercharged our economy. Right. Like, we have a level of abundance and, and, and it's changed the way we live our lives in ways that is good for rich people and poor people alike, that I think I would not wanna go back and rerun that experiment without it. I think we're good to have ability to travel and, and I think government investment needs to be making long-term bets on improving the foundation of markets and having high quality internet access out to everyone is a part of that, as opposed to these people who are like, eh, I think people should just get whatever some company decides they should get and Right. You know, if that company's their first cool, then they, they get that. And if some other company wants to come in, eh, maybe it'll happen and maybe it won't, who knows.
Sean Gonsalves (21:58):
Right. But of course, you know, when you have a situation where there's only one provider, you know, the incentive is, is is really like, all right, let's, let's build the cheapest thing we can and charge as much as possible. I mean, and you know, his piece doesn't take any of that kind of stuff into account, of course. Because that, that's, that's precisely where these things go. What's the cheapest thing to build and how and how can we extract as, as much from our subscribers as as as possible.
Christopher Mitchell (22:23):
Yeah. And now this is how he ends asking taxpayers to shoulder the risk of costly projects under the false premises that they are future proof is irresponsible and could see Americans paying off debt far past the useful life spann of the network they paid for. Well, that's just not happening. Even if it's 25 years, I, I think that we will have paid off this debt. I worry about debt seriously. Like I, I think we have to have tough conversations about taxpayer dollars, but those tough conversations need to respond to this idea. The only thing we should worry about is overspending. we have lost the productivity of millions of children who don't have good internet access. We could have, we could have built that 10 years ago. We didn't, we spent billions of dollars. Right. Tens of billions of dollars, arguably inefficiently in ways that Scott Walston tells us we should.
And he never wants to reckon with that. Right. he just wants to look forward and say, don't spend too much. Don't, you know, my clients over here, the, the big cable and telephone companies, the big wireless companies boy it would be bad for them if you spent too much. So I'm gonna call with all these reasons why you shouldn't, but we're never gonna talk about how many kids were short-changing how we're short-changing economic growth and innovation by not spending money on that stuff. Right. Sean, you're a little bit older than I am. Like the space race, all this stuff. Like today, we are still living off of the innovations that came from public spending in an improvement in public schools because of the space race. Like, right. Like you and I benefited from that and like now our kids aren't,
Sean Gonsalves (23:55):
And but that kind of history is very rarely told and not well known. And, and so you can kind of make these kind of arguments in that vacuum knowing that most people, you know, don't really have a sense of that.
Christopher Mitchell (24:09):
Sean Gonsalves (24:10):
You know, which to me is what, you know, it's, it's sort of glaringly obvious, but it isn't, I mean, it only is obvious to if, if you, you know, if you kind of follow this stuff.
Christopher Mitchell (24:20):
Right. And I, and I think, you know, like you said, I think a good op-ed includes the right context. <laugh> Yes.
Sean Gonsalves (24:25):
Includes the other context. Abso, or at least to be hon you know, it, you know, at least to be honest, like for, for me, the standard that I haven't always met for sure. But, you know, there, there's this John Stewart mill quote, J js mill quote says, he who knows only his own side of the case knows very little of that. And I used to always use that as a benchmark because I always feel like if, if an argument doesn't take into account or acknowledge the, the, the most articulate counter-argument, then it's not really worth a whole lot. The, there's a level of, of dishonesty to me with, in putting forward arguments that don't acknowledge the things that, you know, your most articulate opponent would, would say immediately.
Christopher Mitchell (25:09):
Sean Gonsalves (25:10):
It, it's not a sort of a final arbiter as to who's right or wrong per se, but to me, I almost automatically discount arguments that don't take into account certain things that we've kind of brought up here in, in, in our discussion here. It's like, come on, you can't really take it serious if, if you're not at least honestly wrestling or acknowledging, you know, some of, some of these things. I mean, it's, it's possible to make a case for something without misrepresenting the actual case.
Christopher Mitchell (25:35):
Right. And I think this is where, when we talk about wireless, I wanna be clear, wireless has been improving. Wireless will keep improving. There are gonna be limits because of how we mismanage spectrum to preference Scott Walton's clients. and his, you know, his well, I don't know if they're actually clients, I should say his backers. And, and so it's not the case that wireless can't do a good job. Like there's a bunch of people out there who live in areas where wireless could do an okay job and it will work. It won't be as reliable, it won't be as fast. It will be more costly to operate over the longer term. but there are a lot of other people who will be left behind when we're not committed to building fiber out who live on the wrong side of the hill, you know, or who can't afford 110 bucks a month for starlink.
you know, so I just feel like I get frustrated at these people because we're trying to figure out what works best for everyone. And frankly, I am often thinking, I don't wanna screw over the big companies. Like I do think to the extent they have put investments into places, like we should not just trample it without being, you know, thoughtlessly and trample it. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>, that's fair. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>, but like, it's an uneven playing field because I just feel like people like him are like hiding the ball and they don't wanna talk about what the actual consequences of their policy are. you know, going another, you know, five years where we pretend that wireless is gonna go out to all these places when it's not because he's not serious about policy. He's advocating for a few big companies that, that write big checks to nonprofits to advance those positions.
Sean Gonsalves (27:02):
Right. So much of what he's put out here is about sort of, you know, he spends some time talking about fiber networks don't really last that long, kind of an argument. And, you know, it, I, I would be interested to hear his response to, okay, so, so if, so if we have all this aging fiber out there, what do we replace it with? More fiber, right? I mean,
Christopher Mitchell (27:24):
<laugh> Well that's one of the things too, is that, is that when the fiber comes due, this is something that you know, one of our listeners of our work guy David asp at Dakota County you know, there's schools that 30 years ago put fiber in to connect their schools and they put it in conduit and systems in an intelligent way cuz they were thinking ahead the way often people who take this seriously, engineers working for government do it. Right. They did it. And that, that fiber is still working fine, but this 12 strands. And so he will go in sometimes on a weekend and they will shut it all down and they will pull the 12 strands out and they will put 144 back in. And this isn't like millions of dollars of investment, right? This is a couple of people pulling fiber through tubes in order to give it another 25 or 30 years. And they do that, not because that 12 strands have gone bad, but because they want more capacity and it's a very low cost upgrade and the schools will then be able to do more things with it. And so, like that's what happens after this 25 year mythical period in many cases. Right? Now, it could be different if you're on poles and things like that, but like, again, it's not gonna be as expensive and it's not nearly as bad as, as he wants to suggest.
Sean Gonsalves (28:38):
So you mean nobody's, no, nobody's ripping out conduit and fiber and replacing it with fixed wireless
Christopher Mitchell (28:45):
<laugh>. It would be, it would be very rare for, for that to be happening. <laugh>. I mean, it's been four or five years, but every year people go to the Wispalooza show and, and those folks are doing great work with wireless, but they're always shocked. They're like, a lot of people are just talking about fiber and it's true because a lot of the wisps are, are into fiber fiber's an important part of their business case, you know, and, and, and there's some people who wanna use it as some kind of Gotcha. And that's dumb. A lot of these wisps are companies that care about their community and are trying to do something good and they're using the technology that is available to them. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>. And when I'm nervous about putting money into wireless, it's not cuz I don't like them. I, I like a lot of those guys, some of them are terrible <laugh>, some of them are just really bad, like, you know but most of them are, are good folks who're trying to do good work for their communities.
And, and the thing is, is that like when, when we have a problem with like a neighborhood that's been disinvested in, you know, we don't say to that neighborhood, you should have more bake sales so you can build your own street. Right? <laugh>, we say this is civil infrastructure, this is important for the economy, for our entire country, for our entire state, whatever. Right? And government is supposed to come in, you know, like most of the economic of the, most of the economic activity in Minnesota is in major cities, right? And like, yet that money pays for roads all throughout the state and the state pays money into things that go back into the metro and stuff like that. You know, like, we're in this together because like if we're not doing that, if we're not building the right infrastructure, then we're not gonna be able to succeed.
And I feel like there are people who have said, I'm gonna be, you know, be able to provide this level of wireless and I think that's good enough for the community. And I don't want to tell them that they're bad people cuz they're not bad people. But I wanna say it might be the wrong tool in some cases, given the need that we have to make sure that everyone has high quality access that works all the time, that is affordable. And, and that comes to, that comes to ahead with our love of small businesses at the Institute for Local Self-reliance. But like infrastructure is infrastructure,
Sean Gonsalves (30:47):
Right? you, we touched on it briefly, but it comes up a lot and it might be worth circling back on. you know, in, in here he talks about relying on low earth orbit satellite providers like starlink or fixed wireless that can be in connectivity often far more cost effective and fast, faster ways of to connect rural Americans. Now I have no experience with Starling whatsoever. I've, you know, I've, I've heard from folks, some folks who have it, who love it, who I've heard from other folks who say, eh we talked a little bit about the cost and, and, and how that is a real issue for folks who are financially strapped. But I like the way that you talk about starlink. It might be worth mentioning because I do hear out in, you know, in different places where I may, you know, give a talk or something like that. It's often a question where the, there's this idea in people's head that, that starlink is the answer for rural America.
Christopher Mitchell (31:41):
Well, Elon Musk doesn't think for rural America, right? I mean, like, he knows a bit about it. his team doesn't think it's the answer for rural America. They're aiming at as many as 5% of the population. And if you have an isolated area where you have a high density of people, you can only get so much signal there. mm-hmm. <affirmative> based on the physics. And so there are real challenges with saying, we're just gonna rely on starlink. Now you get, you got isolated homes here and there. Absolutely. It might be $60,000, it might be 80,000. It could be more to bring a fiber connection. It might be tens of thousands of dollars to build towers to be able to do a wireless connection. That's pretty good candidate for starlink, right? Mm-hmm. <affirmative>, like, there's a lot of good candidates for starlink, more than enough to I think pay the bills. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>. But anyone who says that this is a general solution for rural America, well, not even the company thinks that
Sean Gonsalves (32:35):
<laugh>. Right, right. No, well put.
Christopher Mitchell (32:38):
So with that, we're gonna have to cut a short, we're gonna do another one of these before too long. if you think we, we are, we beat this to death too much, you know, if you like this level of detail, I always feel free to let us know you know, send us a, send us a tweet or a toot if you can find us on Mastodon <laugh> and you know, send us an email and and we'd love to, we love to get feedback, positive, constructive, whatever. That's right. Thank you, Sean. All
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