One of the people I follow on twitter posed an interesting question. What would happen if there was free broadband wireless all over Europe. I sent them my 140 character answer but felt really unsatisfied by that. I'm going to devote some blog space to it over the next few days because I think that there would be a lot of changes. I'm going to break this into a few section. I haven't worked out all of them but there will be government, business, computing and social changes. This structure loosely follows some of the structure within Lawrence Lessig's Code 2.0. He also argued there were four structures that impact community building on the internet. It is written in the US context, but can be applied in other countries.
I'm going to start with Governmental changes.
One of the first things that will happen will be further encroachments on the ability for users to be anonymous and use pseudonyms online. Initially the requirement to login will be used to track which areas have the highest user rates and things like that, but this could be an incredibly powerful tool to prevent copyright abuse from users of the network. IP addresses would go out the window as an enforcement tool of nearly any online abuses. For instance, the safest place to download a movie from the internet would be on the train. You'd be changing IP addresses frequently and it would be very difficult to track a single user from one IP address to the next.
To deal with these problems there would have to be strict oversight to protect users of the network from invasions of privacy from the government and third party users of the network. Currently, the US government has a significantly heavy hand in collecting data from ISPs, Cloud data and social networking data. This includes both European and US data. This would need to be prevented.
Paying for and managing this network would need to be determined as well. One route could be to put a tax on advertisements that are displayed in a IP address range. Since IPs are distributed through regions this would be technically possible. Google just announced they made $9.7 Billion and nearly all of that is from ads (99% was from ad revenue in 2008). Putting a modest tax on this revenue will help pay for this network. Assuming that this infrastructure would need to be rolled out and continually upgraded I would expect at least $2-3 billion annual investment is required. I'm basing this on how much Verizon Wireless and AT&T invest in their network annually. This of course would change based on the amount of capacity required (a lot) and what technology used (WIFI, Wi-Max, LTE) for the network.
Since, this will effectively kill the business model of the telecoms, like T-mobile and KPN, they could be used to help manage the network. Governments and the like aren't the best at managing these networks these old companies would be the best suited to manage it. That or create an organization that is based on former employees.
Finally, the network would have to be net neutral. Otherwise, it would effectively be government censorship if there was a reduction in access to any portion of the web. This means that the internet would be free as in free beer and free as in free speech. This would ensure the most positive results from the free internet on the business side and improve ability of users to participate in democracy.
Biggest changes? Management of the network, increased privacy concerns, paying for the network and copyright owners influence on data controls.
In my next blog I'll discuss how this would change the business environment.