There are a lot of reasons why we should build out high-speed broadband infrastructure, like how it can offer low-cost, easy access to education, communication and business services. But one of the most important reasons going forward will be the Internet’s ability to replace physical goods with virtual ones and fight global warming. This month, we’ve seen a wave of research that shows how digital goods (like music and books downloads) are superior from an energy and CO2 perspective vs. their physical counterparts.
As Bill St. Arnaud put it on his blog recently: “The next killer app for the Internet is dematerialization.” In other words, the Internet will be one of the key tools to fighting climate change by replacing atoms with digital bits, reducing physical goods created, and cutting carbon emissions. That’s the idea that we examined in-depth at our Green:Net 2009 conference back in March.
Thus, the build-out of high-speed ubiquitous broadband networks becomes a means to fight climate change and an issue at the heart of the cleantech industry. Remember Metcalfe’s law, which says that the value of a network rises in proportion to the number of network users? Well, consider that through a green lens: The dematerialization potential of the Internet grows alongside the amount of connections.
The network speed itself is also important. Slow connections, which take ages to download digital media, won’t enable users to weave broadband into their daily lives, and won’t deliver the same kind of dematerialization opportunities. And all of this isn’t even delving into the energy-efficiency opportunities that IT networks can offer for the power grid and other systems. If you want to check out my entire argument, read more on GigaOM Pro (subscription required).