Metcalf’s Law states that the value of a telecommunications network is proportional to the square of the number of connected users of the system.
In English: The Internet with 10 people on it isn’t that valuable. Add a million people it’s much more valuable. Add a billion and things really kick off.
Look at these statistics from Internet World Stats for Sept 30, 2009.
|World Internet Usage and Population Stats – 2009|
|Region||Population||Internet Users||% Penetration|
|Middle East||202M||57M||28.3 %|
|North America||340M||252M||74.2 %|
|Latin America||586M||179M||30.5 %|
|WORLD TOTAL||6,767M||1,734M||25.6 %|
If you’ll notice, the internet penetration world wide is just 25%. In North America is is 74.2% which is the highest.
Here is my proposal: Obama should fund a worldwide Wireless internet access program. Countries can opt-out of course (China!) but for countries that want it, we should build the pipes and set up the towers and do whatever it takes to get worldwide ubiquitous broadband internet access. Specifically, this should be something akin to WiMax, where you can cover large swaths of area without need to deliver fiber. Potentially, this should be coupled with a One Laptop Per Child program, so people have a device to connect with. These devices are sometimes hand-cranked, so you don’t even need electricity to use them.
Why this will work: First of all, there is the money spent on actually building the infrastructure. This means jobs. Second, for each person who is connected to the internet, we increase the value of the internet according to Metcalf’s Law. Once someone is connected to the net, what will they do? They will search on Google and buy from Amazon and do all the things people do on the internet.
Let’s imagine we just did this in the U.S. only. That’s an extra 100M users on the net, but more importantly, because it’s wireless, then people would be online more often. There is a world of commerce that can happen when people are out of the house. Look at the iPhone. This is the tip of the iceberg. Mobile is the new frontier. The U.S. can kick start a new wave of jobs and innovation by making access free and ubiquitous.
If anyone out there is going to be in the White House today, please let Obama know the plan.