Will our population and economic centers shift in an age where access is determined by bandwidth rather than ports?
“It used to be we built societies around rivers and oceans and ports. The new rivers and oceans and ports is fiber. Bandwidth. People settle near good bandwidth hubs,” Bunnie Huang, the hardware hacker of Novena fame, said to me in a cafe in Singapore.
“Singapore is a high bandwidth hub. Bandwidth is cheap and plentiful,” he continued. “I can get static IPs for a low price. The internet access is relatively unfiltered. That’s huge. The people who have access to that have access to the world. That’s number one.”
I was once an archaeologist. I studied the rise of civilizations and the falls of civilizations — the rise and falls of cities. In all eras, people tended to gather in places that provide them with access to other places. Being at the junctions where people, products, and ideas flow through means more opportunity to engage — to engage business, to engage knowledge, to engage the world beyond.
This is no different today. Except that a huge portion of these great exchanges now happen online. We don’t have to be standing at the crossroads to do business, to obtain knowledge, to connect with people.
Just like being in a port, at the confluence of great rivers, or the intersection of major highways or rail lines, being in places with the highest bandwidth internet is going to give us a major advantage and enhanced opportunity.
Right now, most of the world’s high bandwidth hubs are growing up in places that also grew up around seaports — places like Singapore, Hong Kong, the coastal cities of Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, the east and west coasts and Great Lakes region of the USA. This is to be expected: coastal cities enjoyed better connectivity throughout their evolution and have usually always stayed ahead of the hinterland.
But will this change?
I’m thinking of Romania here — a country that has the best internet in Europe and within the top 10 of all countries in the world. For scale, Romania has 56.7 Mbps speed internet while Italy only has 8.73 Mbps. Romania was up until very recently a nowhere country buried deep in the interior of a giant continent; it now one of the greatest bandwidth hubs in the world.
I’m thinking of Salt Lake City and Provo, Utah — bandwidth hubs in the middle of the desert of the USA that grew up around the IT industry.
Will we see cities start evolving in new ways and in new places? Will we see more inland cities that have forever been full steps behind their coastal brethren catch up with the equalizer of better internet?
Is there a reason anymore for so much economic activity to be centered around seaports? Will our traditional coastal cities begin to descend into mere shipping terminals as businesses and people gravitate inland to places that are geographically more remote but virtually better connected?
Will our maps change in a reflection of our new rivers and ports, the fiber networks and bandwidth hubs that are now the number one factor determining our access to the world?