Last week was a good week for modern-day Robin Hoods, with a pair of very wealthy individuals announcing major philanthropic endeavours.
There was the whopping news from George Lucas, who said he will donate to charity most of the $4 billion he’s making from the sale of Lucasfilm to Disney. The money will go toward education, which is one of Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates’ pet causes. If you’ve seen the Oscar-nominated documentary Waiting For Superman, you’re probably aware of just how badly the U.S. education system needs such funding.
References to Lucas as a Robin Hood are made in jest, of course. Much of his existing fortune is well earned, since he’s given the English-speaking world one of its most profound cultural touchstones. The nerds who loved Star Wars, however, can be forgiven for feeling like Lucas has spent the better part of the past decade taking advantage of them, what with the prequel trilogy and his constant tinkering with the original movies. As some people joked on Twitter, the big donation just about makes up for Jar Jar Binks.
The Robin Hood appellation is probably more appropriate in the case of Kim Dotcom, the uber-rich internet entrepreneur who, as far as the copyright cops are concerned, is public enemy number one.
Authorities say Dotcom’s online storage locker service Megaupload was really just a front for massive copyright infringement and piracy. The entrepreneur, who lives in New Zealand, got rich from ripping off the entertainment industry, they say. If you haven’t read Wired‘s thorough and exclusive interview with the alleged pirate, you should, as it explains both sides of the story.
Dotcom is now making waves by offering to pony up $400 million to fund a 13,000-kilometre high-speed fibre-optic cable that would connect New Zealand and Australia to California, a sorely needed link that would greatly lower the price of broadband in his adopted country.
Entrepreneurs in New Zealand have been trying for some time to get this undersea cable built, but they’ve had trouble finding investors willing to cough up the massive expenditure needed. The link would compete with the existing one run by Southern Cross Cable, a company that’s majority owned by Telecom New Zealand, the country’s incumbent phone and internet giant.
Telecom’s monopoly on internet transit is one of the big reasons why New Zealand continues to struggle with poor and expensive broadband. Earlier this year, visiting actor Stephen Fry called the situation “pathetic” and urged Kiwis to rise up and demand better.
Things are so bad that even Prime Minister John Key doesn’t appear troubled by the notion that an alleged master pirate wants to get involved. Yet, as some observers have pointed out, there is perhaps one stumbling block to the plan – U.S. government permission would be needed to connect such a cable to California, which is not likely to happen if Dotcom is involved.
Still, it’s best not to underestimate Kiwi willfulness. The country has resisted U.S. efforts to push nuclear power and arms into the country for more than 25 years. With few options on the table as to how to fund necessary broadband upgrades, the people and their government are frustrated and angry.
And, as we all know, anger leads to hatred, and hatred leads to the Dark Side…