The other day I heard Professor Susan Crawford speak at a Brookings event, entitled “Fostering Internet Competition.” If you watch the short clip below, it’s clear that Crawford either does not know how innovation works, or is purposely belittling infrastructure-related aspects of it in order to spread the false narrative that networks are no more than “dumb pipes,” bereft of innovation.
In her view, all Internet innovation comes at the so-called “edge” – from services like Google Search, or YouTube, or Facebook, or Pandora, or iPads, etc. To get there, she derisively likens networks to simple public streets or utilities, important only insofar as they allow traffic to arrive where and when users direct it. Nothing more.
Now, it’s true that quantitatively 99.99% of all innovation occurs at the “edge.” But to suggest that infrastructure / transmission has no role in Internet innovation is simply preposterous. To the contrary, it’s fundamental and core, even as “small” as it is. Innovation flows fluidly between infrastructure and the “edge” because they interdependently build upon each other.
Just try getting your bandwidth-intensive YouTube, Pandora or iPad applications (among all others) to run without those core infrastructure providers streaming fast-and-perpetually-getting-faster-broadband to you.
You can’t do it.
Crawford, in her zeal to make infrastructure providers our digital indentured servants, conveniently ignores the fact that these private actors have created at least a half-dozen (and growing) competitive, interstate highways over these ten-or-so years. This fact plays no small role in why the “edge” is so innovative. With rising speeds and quality of service, providing an ever-evolving national footprint of “superhighways,” infrastructure innovation has exploded…
…enabling the “edge” to explode, too.
I started with CompuServe and a 300 baud modem (yes, an “edge” device) in 1987. Since then, the “streets” have gotten fatter, the speeds faster, and, not accidentally, the content, applications, services and devices richer. They all work together to make the Internet more innovative.
No doubt, the much beloved “edge” is important to Internet innovation. AND, so is infrastructure.