The Internet as an appliance

Where does your hot water come from?

Most of us have a water heater of some form in the building. The water heater combines cold water, electricity, and sometimes sunlight or gas to produce the hot water on-site. While utility services provide some of the elements needed to obtain the water and heat it, we could not efficiently get any hot water without using an on-site water heating appliance. Subscribing to a hot water delivery service would be very inefficient and expensive by comparison.

Where can you get hot or cold food and drinks, every day?

Refrigerators store our food and drinks bought from the grocery store, and surround those purchases with air cooled via heat-pumps. Air conditioners work in a similar manner. Ovens either heat air and liquids by burning something, or by converting electricity into heat. Refrigerators don’t produce drinks, ovens don’t produce food, air conditioners don’t produce air, and all of them rely on electricity. Regardless, we couldn’t have consistently cold drinks, hot food, and comfortable air on demand without first installing these appliances into our homes. We could travel to air conditioned restaurants every day, but that would be much more expensive over the long term.

Do you pay your postal delivery service, in person, every time they drop mail off at your house?
Do they have to wait for you to get home before dropping off the mail?

No to both! Mail boxes and slots don’t create mail, but they hold it safely for us in between the time of delivery and the time we get home. Businesses and people pay for the postal service to get the mail to you as conveniently as possible. Without these simple mail utilities installed in our homes, receiving mail would be a much more expensive and less convenient experience.

The point is: we all own appliances and install them in our homes to make life a little easier. We don’t pay a subscription fee every time we use these appliances, but we get great benefits every time we use them.

Most Americans today can’t imagine living without these appliances in their homes. American homeowners pay highly for home improvements that enhance access to these appliances and related home infrastructure. Renters pay more for access to all the amenities these appliances provide.

Even some conveniences that were the sole province of utility services in the past are now becoming available via home appliances.

Solar panels and small wind generators convert natural phenomenon into electricity for our homes. Rain capture systems, water filters, and grey water recycling systems allow us to be much less dependent on local water utility providers. Home installed geothermal systems allow us to change the temperature of air much more efficiently. Even new trash composting technologies and related gas capture systems allow us to convert our refuse and sewage into fertilizer and natural gases — making us much less dependent on outside trash, gardening, and gas services.

For a moderate price up front, we can now buy home appliances and infrastructure improvements that will save us tremendous amounts on utility subscription fees in the long term, with no net loss in convenience. Very expensive appliances and home structures can be financed via their equity improvement value. Warranty, insurance, and repair services allow us to safely run all these complex systems with little or no expertise. After all, you don’t have to be an expert mechanic to own and operate your car — you just have to be able to hire one. Your Auto Club can even help you find the right competitive mechanic to hire. Your community Network Co-op could help you find the right competitive services for everything else.

The Internet can be thought of in the same way as these other appliances and home improvements.

A network router is an appliance that helps transmit data from one device to another. You don’t need to be a giant telephone or cable company to own a router. Most WiFi access devices and computers sold today can actually be used as routers. Connecting these routers with your nearest neighbors doesn’t cost you any more than connecting with other devices along your shared fence lines, but the benefits are innumerable.

Just imagine if all your neighbors were in turn also connected with their neighbors 2 lots away, and in turn again connected 3 lots away, and so on, all the way to the city limits. You could send data out and request more back, through your neighbors, to anyone else in the city. You could exchange voice, video, music, or text as you please — it’s all just data! You and your neighbors can all agree to treat each other’s data with privacy and respect, and use technologies that automatically enforce these agreements. You don’t need to run a telephone or cable company to communicate over this neighborhood mesh. You just have to maintain your own router, and find a lot of good neighbors who are willing to do the same.

Mesh network routers are communications appliances that you can install in your home yourself, just like a refrigerator or water heater. You can also hire a professional to install it for you, and periodically pay a small competitive maintenance or insurance policy fee. None of those costs add up to anything near what you would pay a utility for the same services over your lifetime.

Instead of letting some far-off billionaire own and manipulate your connections to the outside world, why not give yourself and your neighbors a chance to cooperatively own and operate them for your own benefit?

5 thoughts on “The Internet as an appliance”

  1. This concept makes so much sense!

    When moving to a remote rural location, often you have to subsidize the introduction of utilities to that area. But when people start moving in, you share the utility line, allowing them to buy in and be shareholders and stewards of that resource.

    Your concept of the first mile (versus last mile de facto talk) is consistent with how rural America was inhabited. The vestiges remain all over the place, too, as my water in Altadena is a shared first mile resource.

    Thanks for the insight and I encourage you to promote your thoughts.

  2. So how do you propose establishing a connection of that “first mile” to the internet? Have you researched current estimated costs? Initial costs related to installation… life cycle costs to maintain? What about contracts to share costs (and enforcement of cost sharing)?

    1. Part of the mission of the Data Roads Foundation will be to bring these costs down. We are already paying these costs, and then adding on the overhead of duopoly rent-seeking profits imposed by for-profit incumbent utilities. We are currently paying via infinite “subscription” installments, instead of via up-front hardware and labor costs, or via equity improvement loans. Which method would you rather use to pay off a car: one-time check payment up front, a defined term loan, or an infinite lease that is never paid off and never results in attaining car ownership? Which maintenance plan do you want: pay the repair man only when it’s broken, pay for an annual warranty extension, or “subscribe” to a maintenance service that you may never need? With Internet access, you are currently always forced into the last option. The more competition and options we have in how we connect to each other, and maintain those connections, the less these connections will cost.

      I think the main cost issue that needs to be addressed is the router hardware. The faster routers with better features will naturally cost more, just like cars with different features cost different prices. Once you have a sufficiently capable router, then the link layer can vary, based on whatever is appropriate for the specific property that you’re installing the neighborhood “roads” network on. I imagine that in most cases a good set of MIMO antennas on a roof will be sufficient, for a strong 802.11n mesh connection to all nearby neighbors. Properties with line of sight issues can install conduit and wire lines along their fence lines, for a cost per linear foot comparable to installing an older kind of fence.

      Larger properties will obviously incur higher installation costs, but that’s true of any home infrastructure installation. Where I live, the home owners with the biggest properties can also afford the most expensive equity improvement projects. I understand that relationship between property size and bank account size doesn’t hold true for all areas, so cost efficient solutions have to be determined on a case-by-case basis, just like any other home improvement project.

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