Transcript: Community Broadband Bits Episode 122: Bob Frankston

Thanks to Jeff Hoel for providing the transcript for Episode 122 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast with Bob Frankston. Listen to this episode here. 


Bob Frankston:  The Internet is basically a discontinuity from the tradition of communications as a service.  It's something we can do ourselves.  And that's very empowering.  And that's the future we need to look towards. 


Lisa Gonzalez:  Hello there.  Welcome to the Community Broadband Bits Podcast, from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance.  This is Lisa Gonzalez. 

Today we have another visit from Bob Frankston.  Bob and Chris have talked together in a couple of other Community Broadband Bits Podcasts, and we always enjoy having him back again.  Many of our discussions focus on communities that have done interesting things with connectivity.  But when Bob visits, he always makes us look at the definition of connectivity.  In this discussion, Bob and Chris get into the economics of bringing ubiquitous access to the U.S., among other things.  Policy makers often draw parallels between the Internet and our extensive systems of roads, or our efforts to electrify the entire country.  Bob and Chris look a little deeper into these comparisons.  They take a hard look at the economics of fiber networks, and how current practices need to change to take full advantage of its possibilities.  Bob has an extensive library of writings at .  So if this conversation piques your interest, be sure to check out his work. 
Here are Chris and Bob for an interesting conversation. 


Chris Mitchell:  Welcome to another edition of the Community Broadband Bits Podcast.  I'm Chris Mitchell.  And today I'm speaking with Bob Frankston.  Welcome back to the show, Bob. 


Bob Frankston:  Well, thank you.  Glad to here again. 


Chris:  You and I spoke in -- I believe it was the single digits, one of the earliest episodes of the Community Broadband Bits.  And there, I think we went a little bit more over your background.  But you've been programming for over half a century.  And you've been an entrepreneur.  And, for our purposes, you've done a lot of writing about telecommunications networks, and people can find that at .  And I encourage them to go check it out.  Now, is there anything else that I should be noting? 


Bob:  Well, I started my career as -- in the strange position as somebody building retail software for normal people in the '60s, and also a technologist.  So I've constantly gone back and forth.  And, I think, one of the challenges I have is explaining to users what the -- why the underlying technology matters.  But even harder, sometimes, is explaining to technologists about the user experience -- that you can't solve every problem by finding the right kind of wire.  You have to work on both sides -- of the technology and the -- AND empowering people. 


Chris:  And I think, actually, I would just take that a little bit further and -- something that I think you'll agree with me on, which is that sometimes you can't even solve an issue with technology.  Sometimes it takes law, or economics, or policy, or something that's unrelated to technology. 


Bob:  Well, I -- in particular, economics.  What I've said is, I approach connectivity -- and I prefer to use that term rather than telecommunications -- first as an economic problem.  That whatever the technology is, we can work around it, if we have the economics.  And I view -- think of economics in terms of incentives. 

So, let's take airlines for example.  Airlines have learned that to make more money, they have to limit the number of seats.  Which is annoying to the rest of us, but it makes the business viable.  So I have to look at each business and see, do the incentives we create, are they necessary, and do they give us sort of the societal results we want?  And we have to be careful of our metaphors or examples.  So, one thing is, when we think of the Internet, every- -- a lot of people think of it like the electric power grid.  It's something that's delivered and piped in on wires.  But that metaphor doesn't really work well.  And it leads us to policies that work at cross purposes with what we want, which is more capacity.  And I prefer the word "capacity" to "speed" ... 


Chris:  Yes. 


Bob:  ... because electrons all go at the same speed.  But I'm not going to quibble.  If you want to call it "speed," that's fine.  I just have to, you know -- there are times when it -- when you have to be precise, and there are times when you just go with what -- words people understand. 


Chris:  I've wrestled with that as well.  Because I do recognize that we're talking about capacity, and, you know, if the speed of light within glass is different from the speed of wireless, then we're sort of getting lost in the ... 


Bob:  Yes. 


Chris:  ... distinctions that are not necessary.  Um ... 


Bob:  Yup.  


Chris:  But I think you're right.  And one of the things that you talk a lot about is that -- are the current way that we have telecommunications is not appropriate, and that instead we should be talking about connectivity.  So, just tell me -- like a thumbnail sketch -- of what's wrong with telecommunications, as we currently typically have it. 


Bob:  Well, we have to be careful about the word.  Because "communications," to may people, are newspapers.  And not just the technology.  So the very word "telecommunications" assumes -- it's sort of like people saying Pandora is radio.  These words often, you know, are ambiguous. 


Chris:  Right. 


Bob:  But if you go back to the 19th century, we had telegraph wires running by railroads.  And that seemed very appropriate, because telegrams were freight, railroads carried freight.  So we, you know, treat them the same.  And we created the, you know, the Interstate Commerce Commission, to regulate commerce.  Because -- we didn't regulate the tracks, we regulated the business of carrying freight.  And we applied the same rules for carrying telegrams, and created the FCC as part of the ICC.  But today, we have roads.  Instead of being a passenger on a railroad, you would drive yourself across the country, or drive yourself next door.  When you leave your house, you know, you don't pay differently to use a road, whether you're driving down the street or across the country. 


Chris:  So you have considerably more freedom on the open network of roads than you do on the railroad, where the railroad -- the railroad company -- tells you when you go, it tells you how fast you go, it tells you all kinds of stuff that you have no control over as a user. 


Bob:  But more important is economics.  The railroad econ- -- is a business where they sell you -- they own the tracks and they sell you rides.  The purpose of the tracks is so they can sell you rides.  And they add value by making sure the train gets from point A to point B, it doesn't fall off the bridge -- which, there was a big problem in the 19th century, you know.  So, that, you know, is a viable business model.  If it weren't for competition from cars, it would be a very good business model.  The problem is that the economics of telecommunication no longer work that way.  And this is really what the Internet is about.  In other words, usually the word "Internet" -- the "Internet" -- is confusing, because people have all sorts of ideas about what it is.  But basically -- if you look at voice-over-IP for example -- you know, a phone call.  And we assume there's a phone company that's, again, making sure that the phone call works.  With 
voice-over-IP, we don't 
depend on having a phone company in the middle that makes sure the phone call works.  We take responsibility outside of a network.  So we need an economic model which doesn't depend on somebody in the middle sort of adding value. 

And that's -- so that's why I started [with] economics.  That whatever the technology is underneath, the economics have changed.  Just as the economics of roads -- we don't pay for a road by buying a ride.  You pay for somebody to put in the pavement.  You pay for people to maintain the road.  But you don't pay for the ride.  And that's why you have a department of transportation now. 


Chris:  And one of the things that you've proposed is a Department of Connectivity.  And, in part -- and this gets more into the economics -- because, fundamentally, the issue of improving connectivity in the United States, I think, relies on largely one-time capital costs.  There's certainly some operating costs that will go along.  But those operating costs are quite little, compared to the capital costs of making sure that we have, effectively, a road system.  And, you know, I think maybe we want to try and get away from that metaphor.  But it's useful, just to say that, you know, historically, we've paid for these networks with these ongoing charges as though it was a railroad, when in fact we have a road, and we should be paying just one time, and then our operating costs will be very low moving forward. 


Bob:  Yes.  I sometimes describe telecommunications as a loan you can never pay off. 


Chris:  [laughs] 


Bob:  You know.  We paid for the capital cost many years ago in many of the facilities, yet we keep paying forever.  And the road analogy is useful in a number of ways.  You know, you take -- it's interesting to look at the history of road numbers.  Let's take Route 1, for example.  Or pick your road where you are.  But on the East Coast, we have Route 1.  But there really isn't a road called Route 1.  Somebody tacked up some signs so cars can find their way from Maine to Florida without getting lost.  But they didn't have to build a road.  So, when you talk about the road system, we're talking about, sort of -- I call it a construct.  It's sort of -- we named the roads, but we didn't actually -- there isn't a single system.  It's just a term we use. 


Chris:  And one of the things I really like about that is that you have a lot of local actions that are contributing.  You know, everyone may maintain some span.  And together, that what results in the road. 


Bob:  Yes.  And we have an economic system because every community -- to oversimplify, every community builds its own roads, but they share it with the others that might pass through, because they expect the same kind of, you know, reciprocity elsewhere.  We talk about "do-it-yourself."  I've started to use the term, "DIO," for "do-it-ourselves."  So, we work as a community to sort of build these facilities.  And when we do it ourselves -- let's say it's in a housing project, we have a condo board or an owner who does it.  With the next scale, it is -- we have a local community group we call the "government."  But these days, the word "government" has become so tainted with the centralized control that we forget that it's just a way we coordinate local activities.  It's a way we work together locally. 

Just getting back to the cost, because you're talking about high capital costs.  Yet, you know, if you take a look at broadband and the electric metaphor.  The problem with the word "broadband" is it confuses the cable TV content with the business of just -- when I'm careful, I use the word "facilitate" -- the exchange of bits.  Because the word "network" implies it's a physical thing like a rail- -- you know, a railroad network, as opposed to roads. 


Chris:  Right. 


Bob:  But, you know, we don't have competing electric grids.  Why do we have competing facilities for sort of carrying the bits?  And I point out that if you have -- Like, where I live, we've got three broadband infrastructures -- Comcast, Verizon, and RCN.  Yet every one has to cover the whole city.  So I'm paying -- as a whole, we're paying three systems, at three times the cost, for one times the capacity.  So, the high cost we see can't be that high if we can overbuild by a factor of three.  And, even more to the point, if you look at the copper we have --  Twenty-five years ago, DSL went to a couple of megabits, when computers went to a couple of megahertz.  These days, computers go a thousand times faster, yet we haven't invested in making the copper faster.  We might not have had to put the fiber in if we took advantage of the copper.  In fact, inside your house, there was an official plan in the '90s, we were going to put fiber in the homes, to 
provide connectivity.  Yet we run ten gigabits over copper with HDMI.  So there are lots of ways to reduce the capital cost too. 


Chris:  Right.  I just want to point out that over very short distances, copper has an incredible carrying capacity.  And I think, just to avoid confusing people who aren't as familiar with the technology, I think your critique is that the copper that's outside our homes could be capable of much more if the companies that owned it were managing it in different ways. 


Bob:  Well, this -- it comes back to economics.  That the reason we didn't invest in copper is that the regulations said you had to share copper, whereas if you spent a lot of money -- billions of dollars -- on new fiber, you didn't have to share it. 


Chris:  Would you agree that fiber has a greater carrying capacity than copper? 


Bob:  Probably.  It's -- but, you know, one thing you've learned about Moore's Law is, it's amazing what you can do when you have the right incentives.  But -- In other words, I'm not saying fiber's bad.  Fiber has a lot of advantages.  It's just that we could, you know, take advantage of what we have, and then just make an economic decision.  Is it cheaper to put fiber in or use the copper?  It's actually an economic decision.  There's nothing magic about fiber. 


Chris:  Right.  I just want to make sure there's a little bit of a distinction.  Because we don't want to reinforce the argument of, for instance, a cable company or telephone company lobbyist, that are saying, oh, the copper is just fine, just let us take care of it with our monopolies, and we'll be able to do everything you want.  You know, I think some of us see the opportunity of building new fiber as a way of just getting away from those old actors and having a new kind of structure. 


Bob:  Yeah, it's economics.  And the worry I have about a lot of the gigabit efforts is not --  Speed is great; I like speed.  The problem is economics.  And if you build -- if you build new fiber that's the same as the phone company, where the city is the new phone company, you don't change the dynamics.  The key is to avoid having to put a pay wall around the wires.  So if you could give me gigabit fiber to one jack in my house, and nowhere else in the city, on average, I've got no connectivity.  But if we have an economic model which says it's common infrastructure like roads, then we suddenly have a huge economic opportunity, not simply to get to the Web, but, for example, health care.  If I have a health care monitor on my wrist, it should just be able to connect, wherever I am, without having to worry about being -- sorry, you can't connect to the hospital because you don't have the right provider and haven't paid the right bill. 


Chris:  And so, in this model, a city that was thinking ahead of the game, and had followed your advice -- and you're the CIO, and you have an unlimited budget -- just for the -- not because that's necessary, but because it's useful for the thought experiment -- you would have, you know, every home connected with, I'm guessing, both some sort of wired and wireless kind of capacity, so that this device that you have, you wouldn't have to, like, go around and log into your neighbor's house, or do anything else.  It would just work wherever you are. 


Bob:  Well, it's even simpler than that.  Today's Wi-Fi is **.  But let's assume that it works.  If you just put, like, you know, a ten-dollar Wi-Fi chip on every pole that the copper or the fiber passes, we'd have megabits -- or gigabits -- for everyone in the city to just use.  You know.  And we could put a w- -- you know, you could run a wire to the house if you want, but, you know, we're getting gigabit radios and stuff.  So, because it's very simple to provide the coverage, and because you're not trying to sort of put a pay wall around it.  Let's say you're in your sub-basement, and you're not connected.  You can just extend it.  You know, if people add an extra electric wire, they're stealing electricity.  But if they add, you know, an extra leg on one of these networks, they're contributing to the commons.  They're adding capacity.  It's like they're providing a road across their property so people have more ways to travel.  So this is where we go 
against sort of this scarcity meme, where, in a sense, the more you add to it, the more there is. 


Chris:  And so, let me ask you, then, what we're talking about is effectively having whoever owns the network -- whoever owns the physical resources, which, you know, today in my community today is Centurylink and Comcast.  And in the world that you're describing, the resources would be owned by everyone, basically -- perhaps by local government or perhaps by just, you know, ad hoc coalitions of people who are extending networks.  But the question is, how does that work in terms of protocols and everything?  Doesn't the Internet require some level of centralization? 


Bob:  Well, this is why I was talking economics.  We can use today's protocol as is, because -- there's this -- there's a degree of centralization in some of the technical levels, in terms of giving you an IP address, and the DNS.  I'd like to fix those over time.  But we can live with those.  So if -- that's why I'm ** accomplish the same thing as home networks.  Originally -- you know, every -- the phone companies were going to charge you for each PC you had in your house.  And each printer.  And a monthly fee for each device.  Just like they do now with cellular.  But when I was at Microsoft, I put a barrier -- what people call the router [pronounced rooter] today -- or NAP for the technical people, ... 


Chris:  Or router [pronounced rowter], depending on where you are. 


Bob:  Sorry.  A rowter? 


Chris:  Rooter, rowter, you know, whatever.  It all depends on where you are. 


Bob:  I yell at my car whenever it says it's changing the rowte.  So, you no longer pay for each device.  So that -- but I did it by sort of extending existing protocols rather than reinventing everything. 


Chris:  And I just want to -- I love this point.  And I think we touched on it the last time we talked.  But I'd really like to put a fine point on it.  Which is to say, basically, you made a decision and got Microsoft to put a device -- or use a system -- that prevented the ISPs from seeing inside our networks.  And that is so incredibly valuable. 


Bob:  Yeah.  And -- but you have to understand, the technology was in service of the economics.  That this is about changing the incentives or the economics.  That's why I'm not so concerned about the protocols, at first.  Over time, sure, we want better protocols, we want better radios and all that.  But that will happen if we get the incentives right, which is a matter of getting the economics right.  And that's why common ownership -- 

But let's go back to the example of a city.  Let's say the city had a common infrastructure.  Now, how much would it cost the city?  Well, we already have connectivity coming out of our ears.  A lot of unused capacity.  Because people -- if they build a new road, they just put a fiber down.  When you build a highway, why not? 


Chris:  The smart cities do, yes. 


Bob:  Let's get to smart cities in a second.  I've got a problem with that term.  But you've got now a separate system for the police, you've got a separate system for the fire, we've got a separate system for the traffic lights, you have another system for the streetlamps.  Imagine if all those were the common system, how much money you'd save, and how much better -- in other words, a fire truck is going to a site and instead of having a special network which has to be maintained, it can use the common connectivity and have full access to all the information about the building.  It could send back videos, ... 


Chris:  Um-hum. 


Bob:  You know, if you wanted to do spectrum analysis of the fire --  There are all sorts of things you can do once you could assume common connectivity. 


Chris:  Those things are happening, right now.  And, for instance, in Wilson, North Carolina.  And I'm just -- If I'm understanding you correctly, what you're describing is already happening, in the sense that a lot of communities have a common infrastructure, but they limit it to all of the publicly-owned facilities.  So, schools, libraries, police, fire -- they all share an infrastructure.  But they're not sharing that, in many cases, outside the local government. 


Bob:  Right.  And they lose a lot of synergy.  For example, if I've got a smoke detector in my house, assume it could just be connected to the fire department to report the information directly -- again, if I choose to. 


Chris:  Right. 


Bob:  There where privacy information, you know, all those kind of **.  But if I choose to, it should just be able to assume connectivity.  If I've got a medical device, it should just be able to be connected, wherever I am.  So that's why, you know, this idea of making a distinction between, you know, those special government systems and what the rest of us do is part of what maybe alienates us.  We should all be able to contribute to the commons, and get the benefits of it.  And it saves money, of course, by having this common system.  So, you know, when we read about having a special public safety system, they're excited about 10 megabits for this purpose.  Well, we should expect gigabits.  Not because we build a special gigabits pipe, but because that capacity is already there, it's just locked down.  The system that's least likely to work is the emergency system, because it's not been tested and exercised constantly.  Whereas, the systems we 
use day-to-day, the ones we can fix ourselves, the ones we can go to the store -- in the old days when there was still a Radio Shack everywhere -- you know, in an emergency, go to a Radio Shack and you buy some Wi-Fi access points.  So, the more we can use the same facilities, the better off we are, the safer we are. 


Chris:  So, one of the ways we're seeing some of this enacted is in the example of condominiums or large apartment units, where they've taken it upon themselves to wire themselves.  And there are some actual companies that specialize just in wiring apartment buildings.  But I think, for this example, we're actually talking about where an apartment building -- as in the case of Castle Village, which you've talked about in a number of times.  You've talked about this a number of times, in Manhattan, where they've wired themselves.  And they found a fast connection to the Internet.  And so they basically provide their own Internet access.  Why is that important? 


Bob:  OK.  Well, let's be careful, because -- again, it's not the wire that's important, it's the economics.  That everybody contributes to this common pool.  So, you know, they pay $10 a month and they get shared access to a, you know, common connection to the rest of the Internet.  It's -- in a sense, in your home, you know, you have your home network, which has one connection to the outside world, the broadband pipe.  This just scales it up to the building.  But by contributing to the whole instead of per apartment, they also get connectivity to the rest of -- in the rest of the area.  So it's not just their apartment.  Anywhere they go, in that area, they're connected.  The get both compelling economics of scale --  But they also get other abilities.  So if a package gets delivered, you know, the doorman can send you a picture of it. 

And, closely related, is something called borderless connectivity.  Part of the problem with today's model is that it's not just a pay wall, which we put a security perimeter around it.  So whenever you try to put a smart device -- So a lot of people are now connecting a lot of IP devices in their homes.  If you change the router, with the access key, and that changes something, all of a sudden all these devices don't work.  So, this is where the technology starts to matter too.  So, once we get -- we no longer need to lock things down, you know, as a funding model, we can start to really take advantage of the technology. 

So this is the interplay.  Now, we have to honor existing protocols and existing practices.  But we need to enable the future, once we get rid of the need to prevent people from communicating, simply to be able to build them. 


Chris:  So this is, I think, the fundamental point that you're raising with your medical device -- is that, as you're walking around town, the reason that it can't just connect wherever you are is because whoever built the physical stuff that allows you to connect wants to restrict who can connect, in order to make sure that they can make enough money off of it to justify the investment -- or the investment and some element of profit, depending on the ownership and the expectations of the owner. 


Bob:  Yes.  There's multiple issues there.  One, if all you have to do -- again, this is where the electric analogy fails -- if you're just carrying bits, nothing of value, and you've got competition, eventually that model is not going to work, which is one reason more people don't invest in more capacity -- and why Verizon has backed off from deploying more FiOS.  Because the business of carrying pure bits without selling content doesn't really work well.  You know.  And the other problem you have -- let's say you try to make your money by selling capacity.  Well, a few bits for a heart monitor aren't going to make you a lot of money.  A TV show -- choose your favorite bad show -- you know, uses a lot of capacity and there's a lot of money there.  So the incentives are skewed.  So this is why we need to recognize that we're no longer, you know, in the 19th century with, you know, telegrams.  But we have more of a model of like roads, where you want to 
every incentive to make them available, so that the community can create its own solutions. 


Chris:  Let me restate that in a different way and see if you still agree with it.  Which is to say that, I think, if you look at a Verizon or someone like that, I think they can pay for the network and they can probably even make a profit, by selling bits.  But it's not enough of a profit for their interests. 


Bob:  Actually, it's worse than that.  They can't make a profit selling bits.  I had a problem.  My FiOS connection went down.  I have a Comcast connection, too, because I experiment.  All I did was move the jack from one to the other and nothing changed.  There's no differentiation.  So, when you've got a high-cost facility -- they put a lot of money into it -- but no differentiation, and whoever owns more capacity wins, you've got an economic model which drives the price below cost.  And that's the conundrum they have. 
Imagine if New York struck down the subway system because it wasn't profitable.  We know the subways are necessary infrastructure, so we find a way of funding them that doesn't depend on the making of profit -- in themselves.  The city profits by having the facilities there. 


Chris:  I might actually use a different term, which is to say the city "benefits."  Because sometimes it can be a little confusing.  But if I understand what you're saying, right, basically, you know, the city is better off, and has more economic activity, and has a higher quality of life, and more people want to be there because they have the network, not because the network generates enough money to pay for itself. 


Bob:  Well, even more.  There are some great pictures of Boston before and after they put the trolleys underground.  It just makes the city work at all.  The cities would be unlivable, in many cases, without a public transportation system.  I -- personally, I think, tolls on the highway -- every time you pay a toll, there should be an extra fee to pay somebody else to take public transportation, in order to make the highways work. 


Chris:  [laughs]  You know, having been in Boston, to say it could use some more stuff underground -- 


Bob:  Definitely. 


Chris:  One of the things that you had mentioned earlier is that you want to make sure we're collecting more examples of the Castle Village approach.  What do you want people to do? 


Bob:  Well, if they have communities that they're sharing with their neighbors, or examples like that, or their apartment buildings, it would be good to collect more -- you know, more stories, so people can understand.  Because I can talk about this in theory, but people need examples.  So if you got -- like, I know there's collective housing in Acton, Massachusetts, where community living -- back in the '90s, before all this became common, they all pitched in to get a shared connection.  So the more -- so I'm sure there are many more examples we could look at, especially, you know, rural cooperatives, where they might have a cooperative store, they should also cooperate, you know, to provide their own connectivity. 


Chris:  One of the things, I think, we should just make clear is that our goal would be that you have some of these -- you may have -- you may have the Castle Village starts off with just connecting their buildings.  And then they expand and connect to their neighbors.  And then you have entire city blocks.  And then you have entire neighborhoods, where you have an option of getting onto this incredible connectivity.  And the amount that people would have to contribute, to maintain that, and to build it in the first place, would actually be lower than what they're already paying for services. 


Bob:  Well, actually, I would argue that in many cases, they'll get money back, because this will become an infrastructure that the city would use to function.  So the city itself would benefit so much --  In other words, subways are expensive.  But, you know, we've paid for these wires and fibers -- years ago in many cases.  What's the cost of putting fiber in compared with a sidewalk or s street?  It's essentially nothing by comparison.  So, by making the city work better, we'd have a common infrastructure that costs essentially nothing. 

Now, if you start with something like a Castle Village's seed, or other cooperative things, you're right, as more people connect to it, the economics of scale increase dramatically, to the point that -- You know, so if a city just provides its basic infrastructure, --  You know, one thing to think about, Time Warner, years ago, used to own a cable company called Time Warner Cable.  They spun it out because they realized their business was in providing the content -- and USING the infrastructure, not by owning it.  Just like AOL had done before.  And the problem with gigabit pipes is, it spooked Comcast into wanting to buy Time Warner Cable.  But if we could assume the common infrastructure, then companies like Comcast, which is not known as NBC-Universal; Time Warner, the content company.  You know, HBO is already saying they're going to provide their content over IP, just like Netflix does, like Hulu does.  This common infrastructure, I think, would, you 
know, provide basically facilities for a lot of purposes.  And I think it would be a positive trend.  Rath- -- And wouldn't have to sort of build a separate system for each purpose. 


Chris:  Is there anything else that you want to throw in before we have to end this show? 


Bob:  Well, I encourage people to sort of, you know, think about how they, you know -- simple examples about how they can just join in with their neighbors.  If -- you know, if you and your neighbors are friendly, share an access point.  Because you basically get the same capacity for half the price.  And as you start getting more people to join it, -- And one counterintuitive example is, you know, we're used to sort of scarcity -- we're running out of resources, we use something up.  Well, if you've got -- you know, once you're above a threshold speed, so you've got, you know, you've got ten 100-megabit connections, and you're shared among ten people.  Well, the way the Internet works, and packets, is bursty.  And each of you would have the equivalent of a gigabit connection. 


Chris:  Right. 


Bob:  This is where we really have to get past the set of physical metaphors, and really understand that this is a very different paradigm. It'a a very different way of thinking.  I think that's holding us back.  We're sort of, you know, sort of like when we first had cars, they were horseless carriages.  And we worried about, you know, we really didn't appreciate the full advantage.  And when movies came in, people didn't know you could move the cameras.  The Internet is basically a discontinuity from the tradition of communications as a service.  It's something we can do ourselves.  And that's very empowering.  And that's the future we need to look towards.  How do we empower each other, rather than how do we just access something? 

Oh, yeah, and then a final thing.  I'm trying to explain why the Internet is not just about websites, and not just about access.  And the big thing over the last year has been the so-called Internet of Things.  So when we have things connecting -- devices -- they can't read on a green-screen or cyan-screen to get by.  So I think the need to connect devices is going to be an issue that might force change, in the way just accessing the web can't.  So, I think -- think about all your devices and that -- they can't negotiate passwords.  I mean, the whole medical monitor is just one example.  Things need what I'm calling borderless connectivity.  And that might lead -- be the reason for change. 


Chris:  The cost of trying to make sure that all these devices we want to connect are able to navigate around a Comcast pay wall, a Time Warner Cable pay wall, and AT&T pay wall could very well be the difference between whether we can use them or not. 


Bob:  When things are hard, people look for exciting stories -- big problems, or big things to solve.  So the smart city will somehow be smarter than you are.  And that reminds me of the 1950s, when people would tear down wonderful neighborhoods to build very sterile projects.  Boston City Hall is a prime example of that.  What we want to do is create vibrant cities, by empowering people.  And if we make connectivity simple -- we don't need to tout these big, high-value projects.  But we can make it easier to do simple things.  And empower people.  And I think that should be -- we want smart PEOPLE more than smart cities. 


Chris:  Smart people and vibrant cities: Bob Franston. 


Bob:  Yes. 


Chris:  Thank you very much for coming on the show. 


Bob:  OK.  You're welcome.  And thank you for having me on. 


Lisa:  Be sure to check out our other interviews with Bob.  They're episodes 14 and 78 of the Community Broadband Bits Podcast.  We've also shared some of his writings, and also a video of Bob, at .  Send us your ideas for the show.  E-mail us at .  Follow us on Twitter.  Our handle is @communitynets .  Once again, this week we want to thank Jessie Evans for the song "Is it Fire?" licensed through Creative Commons.  Thanks for listening, and have a great day.