Emperor Bloomberg Re-Makes the World. Again. And the Gigabit.

So I was sort’ve expecting my comeback post to be something trenchant about Tech or Macro.  Anything but calorie counts?!?  But this piece is more about how change happens.  With a segue to telecom at the end…

The spur is the FDA’s decision to require calorie counts on menus across a wide range of items.  Much wider than expected.  The soundbite is the 1,000 calorie tub of movie popcorn (a healthy adult male’s daily calorie intake should be 2,200-2,400 calories).  But what’s more interesting is how it happened.  Or who.

Who made it happen?  New York City’s former Mayor/Emperor Michael Bloomberg.  He is a genius of tipping points.  First smoking.  Now un-thinking gluttony.

It was Bloomberg who forced calorie counts onto New York menus.  And very little actually changed.  But every New Yorker felt a little bit smarter and a little more in control.  Even if they went on adding cheese to that burger.

More importantly, everyone else who cycled through New York City felt a little smarter too.  Particularly the chattering classes, who cycle through there a lot.  They walked into a Starbucks, saw the obscene calorie count on the pumpkin spice latte, still ordered it, but wondered “Why don’t they do that at home?”   

This is exactly what happened when Bloomberg banned smoking in New York’s bars.  I still remember that first night I went out.  I could breathe!  And how good I felt the next morning.  Who knew how much bad air contributed to the morning-afters?  After that, we all knew.  Even the smokers agreed it was a huge win.  The advance forecasts of doom seemed both laughable and shameful.

And the chattering classes cycled through New York and saw that this too was good.  And they went home and said “Why don’t they do that at home?”

The point here is the power of a concrete example set in a key social pressure point.  Other places had posted calorie counts.  Other places had banned smoking in bars.  But you needed the example to hit home with a certain class of people for it to become a tipping point action.  If you can “tip” that segment, the un-imaginable becomes very real very fast.

So how does this all relate to telecom?  Google Fiber just set pricing of $70 a month for a Gigabit in Austin Texas.  That’s 1,000 megabits.  50x faster than what I nominally get from Comcast (20mb) for $45 and about 150x faster than what I really get (about 6mb).  So what’s the big deal?  Google Fiber launched in Kansas City, Kansas with similar pricing.  So who cares?

The chattering classes don’t cycle through Kansas City, Kansas.  They do cycle through Austin.   The same potential dynamic is there.  A concrete example followed by “Why don’t we have this at home?”

The reason we don’t is the telcos and cable co’s have worked hard to create the impression that bandwidth is a terribly expensive and scarce.   The existing providers just found it a whole lot cheaper to spend money on PR than on actual fiber upgrades.  Just like the cigarette and food industries held back similarly “radical changes to our American way of life” like smoking in bars and super-sizing ourselves to senescence.

Comcast is charging me $2.25 a megabit/month.  Google is charging 7 cents.  Laying bare that ALL the cost is in trenching an (adequately sized, modern) pipe, not the bits it carries.  And that cost plus profit foots to a reasonable cost for an affluent household.  This is well known by experts and proven in the real world.  It just hasn’t been seen by influencers.  Just like calorie counts…

That sort of FUD (fear uncertainty & doubt) falls away in the face of a concrete example.  Google Fiber is a pretty darn good example.  Whether the crack in the dam gets made in Austin or one of the other upper-classy cities they are building, they will eventually unleash that flood of; “Why don’t we have this at home?”   And the ante in the broadband poker game will be a Gigabit – not a few miserly megabits like today.

That all sounds like a stretch.  But look at what Bloomberg has done with similar “stretches.”  It is all about shifting the right people’s perceptions.  Bloomberg has (literally) saved lives.  And prevented a lot of misery – if only just hangovers and indigestion. Hopefully Google can work similar magic, delivering similarly big social/economic gains.

Whew!  Nice to get back to writing.    🙂

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