Free Market Solutions: Residents Build Their Own Internet

All but abandoned by the Telecoms, local residents are doing what the government and big business won't.

Detroit, Mich., is in recovery after the city declared bankruptcy in 2013. Being forced to pay its debts and pension obligations, other standard city services have fallen by the wayside, and that includes not only services provided by the city itself (such as street lighting), but also by major companies offering services like Internet.

The FCC estimates that nearly 40% of Detroit does not have any access to the Internet. That’s just not high-speed Internet, that’s Internet in any form. Additionally, 70% of the city’s school children do not have Internet access.

Despite the clear need, much of the city has been neglected. Without Internet access, it is difficult to fully function in today’s society, as nearly everything is centered around Internet access.

The issue isn’t only cost, though it is prohibitive for many Detroiters, but also infrastructure. Because of Detroit’s economic woes, many Big Telecom companies haven’t thought it worthwhile to invest in expanding their network to these communities. ... The city is filled with dark fiber optic cable that’s not connected to any homes or businesses — relics from more optimistic days

So there’s clearly a problem here: no infrastructure and high cost. But what’s being done about it? As a VICE documentary reveals, solution-minded people are coming to the aid of those in need, and are doing so on their own initiative. And what do you know? It's working!

The Detroit Community Technology Project has been working to provide these people with Internet access, and so far the project has been rather successful. Indeed, the free market is providing these people with Internet.

[Diana] Nucera is part of a growing cohort of Detroiters who have started a grassroots movement to close that gap, by building the Internet themselves. It’s a coalition of community members and multiple Detroit nonprofits. They’re starting with three underserved neighborhoods, installing high speed Internet that beams shared gigabit connections from an antenna on top of the tallest building on the street, and into the homes of people who have long gone without. They call it the Equitable Internet Initiative.

Those who do the Internet installations have not received exhaustive technical training that one may expect, but after 20 weeks of training, they are able to do all the work necessary to bring Internet to these areas. They can install, troubleshoot, and maintain a network, just like the big telecoms do. In addition to that, they are spreading knowledge as well.

“We want to make sure that we’re not just installing all the equipment, but also educating the community,” said Rita Ramirez, one of the stewards working in Detroit’s Southwest neighborhood.

Those working on this project claim that Internet access is a fundamental human right. That's an assessment I take issue with, as we are not entitled to certain goods or services just because they are essential to life. We must pay for those things because they are the fruit of other people’s labor, and we have no right to demand their product unless we pay them for it.

However, I must applaud voluntary efforts to bring Internet access to those who do not have it. Local communities are being educated and connected thanks to these people’s work. Similar solutions can be enacted for other kinds of services as well.

Let’s learn a lesson in localism and free market solutions that can we can apply to other areas of our lives.

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