Wayne’s post got me thinking. Yes, of course, its absurd for Sen. Byron Dorgan to say that consumers somehow own fiber “pipes” that clearly belong to corporate stockholders. But, then again, I do wonder if private, voluntary co-ops might well be a good way to accelerate the roll out of some types of technology. Insurance companies, credit unions, business franchisers, electric utilities, and even food stores all sometimes operate as co-ops and mutuals. (Both are member-owned but co-ops typically require an upfront equity investment while mutuals “give” a measure of ownership to anyone who does business with them. Both hand out a portion of their corporate profits to members.)
The economics of rolling out any type of network are difficult: you have to sustain years and years of losses. The old AT&T, in fact, had to sell itself off because it could not figure out a way to roll out cable-based Internet services in an efficient way and plenty of companies (Iridium, Global Crossing) have gone belly up after dropping billions on infrastructure. Particularly for services that are highly scalable–wi-fi is one–it strikes me that business-like non-profits could have a very important potential role to play.