[TUHS] Cole's Slaw

John Gilmore gnu at toad.com
Thu Dec 10 10:19:06 AEST 2020

Clem Cole <clemc at ccc.com> wrote:
> My own take on this is what I call "Cole's Law" Simple economics
> always beats sophisticated architecture.

I'm with you, Clem!

That certainly worked for closing the Digital Divide.  Some suggested
allocating billions in tax dollars to subsidize the un-networked in the
1990s and 2000's.  Instead we mostly just waited a few years.
Semiconductor economics plus consumer behavior (demand rises very
quickly as prices drop, which provides economies of scale) solve most of
the problem for you.  (And in the 2020s Elon Musk and others have likely
accumulated enough capital and tech to solve the Last 500 Mile problem
-- aiming the dish straight up and to the horizons -- for rural and
maritime digital divide issues.)

Cole's Law has worked similarly for farm efficiency.  Farms in 2020 are
many times as efficient, on average, as they were 40 years ago, counting
all the inputs (water, energy, land, human time, fertilizer, etc) and
the outputs (food and waste products).  That's why you can get whole
cooked chickens for $8 at your local grocery, as just one example.  That
was not driven by detailed and complicated environmental regulations, or
farm subsidies, but by straightforward economics.  The more efficient
producers drove out, or bought up, or trained, the inefficient ones.
Information flowed from high efficiency farms to low efficiency ones,
resources flowed the other way.  Going back 140 years, it used to take
50% of the population to grow the food for 100% of us; now it takes less
than 2% of the population.  The US now has net farmland going back to
wilderness every year, because we feed ourselves and the world with less
land than it took last year.

It also worked for scaling up the Internet.  Not just from a few
federally supported fat slow regionals and one skinny backbone, to
thousands of ISP's (each of whom was self-supporting from customers, so
their income would scale with the demand).  Also worked for scaling to
higher and higher bandwidths, riding both the Moore's Law economics of
computation, and also the fiber optic economics of materials science and
semiconductor laser/receiver evolution.  Rather than complex
systemantics around limiting, capping, scheduling, reserving, or
otherwise restricting offered traffic, just cheaply make more headroom.
Move everything to higher frequencies (including infrared light in
fibers, and GHz in radio).  Oops, a pandemic that scales up your
traffic by 50% in a month and needs realtime latency for most of it?  No
problem, the economics caused us to build networks that handled that.

(BTW, why is your home network still using 1-gigabit Ethernet, when
10-gig Ethernet cards are $100, cat6 or 6a cables cost almost the same
as cat5, and 10GBASE-T switches are a few hundred dollars?)

Humans tend to make poor decisions about exponential functions that go
on for decades, because in evolution we so seldom saw that happen.  But
we're in the middle of one now, and it as much an exponential function
in *economics* as it is in *technology*.


More information about the TUHS mailing list