Could Elon Musk Build a New ISP?

Entrepreneur Elon Musk understands the Internet. He helped found PayPal, the electronic payment platform that has largely become the top choice for users when making purchases online, especially through the auction-based website eBay, so it might seem like a natural progression for the alternative energy leader to put resources toward developing a new Internet. Or more precisely, a revolutionary new Internet Service Provider (ISP). I spoke with a number of Silicon Valley experts, who were initially caught off guard with the purely speculative question of whether Elon Musk could, and should, enter the ISP sector in order to show the already existing corporate giants that there is a new way that could bring a more conscious way of looking at how we browse to the forefront. “That’s an interesting question and one that I don’t think a lot of people are asking right now because of a number of things,” a former Google programmer who has turned his efforts to developing a more open and accessible Internet without the gaze of third-parties such as the government said. “It could work, but it would be costly and even then, there are no guarantees that it would be successful. It would be a massive undertaking.” One that arguably Musk, the founder, CEO and lead product designer at Tesla Motors, seems fit to excel at, if he were to choose to go after. It makes sense to us, looking at Tesla’s recent announcement of a gigafactory to be erected in Nevada that will mass produce the batteries for the luxury Tesla electric vehicles. That hints that Musk and Tesla could be on the brink of manufacturing millions of batteries that will help improve efficiency in their vehicles and allow for thousands of models to be manufactured annually. It also could mean the ability to streamline and reduce costs of developing alternative infrastructure that could begin a path toward the creation of a new ISP that brings together environmental awareness with the speed and technological advances that people are itching for in today’s tech world. “It is a whole lot of cash that someone like Musk would have to put forward with the understanding that the rewards would be years down the road and with a lot of risk,” my programmer contact said. Almost all discussion of the Internet and ISPs boils down to finances. You need a lot of money and a massive team of lawyers in order to battle red tape, the existing broadband providers and bandwidth. The FCC defines “broadband” as anything above 4Mbps download speed. Musk has that ability to enter the sector, but the question is what he would do and how would he do it. This, of course, is only speculation. But I spoke with another tech expert, someone who has worked with Google on its Fiber project, which is already delivering 1GB of download speed in its small but growing network. And this expert told me something that could be a major carrot for Musk to go forward on his effort. “People are really wanting something new and innovative,” the expert said. “Fiber has started that trajectory, and while Google has the means and is showing signs of success, Musk has something almost all of us interested in: alternative means of power.” By this, he ostensibly means the manner in which Musk has done business. He helped to radically alter how we view online purchasing and payment. He has since become a household name due to his revolutionizing the electric car industry with Tesla Motors, delivering high-end luxury electric vehicles that are functional for daily use, albeit pricey. And there is evidence that Musk believes that something needs to be done with the Internet. He has often been critical at the lack of real innovative advances in the Internet, and has urged more disruption of the Internet in order to spur growth of new ideas. That tells us he is looking at the current state of affairs facing the Internet. And with much of the focus now being on the interconnectedness of devices, dubbed the Internet of Things (IoT), Musk could, if he chose, use those concepts to build something unique, sustainable and desired by everyone, from Silicon Valley to Paris to Tokyo. So why not get behind a new project, an ISP? While it might seem farfetched, with his role in SolarCity and Tesla, he has honed his knowledge and expertise into the alternative energy sector. Imagine a new ISP, quite literally on the block, that uses electric vehicles to install and service the network, uses alternative energy to deliver high speeds for downloading and browsing and potentially reduces the overall costs, on both our planet and our wallet? Sounds like something most of us could get behind. [zipfinder]
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Joseph Mayton is a long-time journalist, having covered Middle East conflicts for a decade. He now lives in San Francisco and focuses on the intersection of technology and society.

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