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Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Megabits to phones and gigabits to homes

FINDING IT HARD TO UNDERSTAND the "net neutrality" debate? On one side are the hip, cool, billionaire web service companies like Google, eBay, Yahoo, and even Microsoft. Net neutrality is their rallying cry. Despite the fact that they are basically schlocky ad salesmen on a grand scale, they're pushing this quaint, self-serving '60s notion that the Internet is a town square--all for one and one for them, or something like that. Everyone should be allowed to hang out in the town square and use it as they please, one low price, eat all you want at the buffet.

On the other side are the monopolist plumbers like Verizon and AT&T and Comcast. These are the folks who laid the pipe that delivers the Internet--the blogs and pirated movies and photos of Shiloh Brangelina--to your house or office. They think the Internet is more like a giant shopping mall, and they're the mall owners. You the customer can walk around as if you were in the town square, but the tenants (see billionaire web service companies above) are going to have to pay for the upkeep of the premises. If they're one of the anchor stores, they might pay a lot.
Hate to break the news, but your "fast" DSL Internet access is no longer considered high speed. In parts of the world, cell phones are faster.
We'll never get 10 megabits to our homes, let alone the multiples of that speed that are possible and affordable today if these telco Goliaths keep covering up their crown jewels. As Dean Wormer might put it: Fat, drunk (on profits), and stupid is no way to go through life, son.

But the answer is not regulations imposing net neutrality.
So how do we fix this? Are we stuck in telco hell? Silicon Valley can ignite a political arms race and spend more on lobbyists, but why play an old man's game? Instead, these webbies should get creative, change the rules. Bam-Bam, not Barney Rubble is the future. Take the telcos and cable companies out at the knees.

Here's an idea: Start screaming like a madman and using four letter words--like K-E-L-O. And fancier words like "eminent domain." I know, I know. This sounds wrong. These are privately owned wires hanging on poles. But so what? The government-mandated owners have been neglecting them for years--we are left with slums in need of redevelopment. Horse-drawn trolleys ruled cities, too, but had to be destroyed to make way for progress. How do we rip the telco's trolley tracks out and enable something modern and real competition?

Forget the argument that telcos need to be guaranteed a return on investment or they won't upgrade our bandwidth. No one guarantees Intel a return before they spend billions in R&D on their next Pentium chip to beat their competitors at AMD. No one guarantees Cisco a return on their investment before they deploy their next router to beat Juniper. In real, competitive markets, the market provides access to capital.

Sure, property rights are important, but that doesn't mean we can't shake a cattle prod at our stagnant monopolists and say "update or get out of the way." The mantra should be "megabits to phones and gigabits to homes." We'll only get there via competition.
We don't even know what new things are possible. Bandwidth is like putty in the hands of entrepreneurs--new regulations are cement. We don't want a town square or a dilapidated mall--we want a vibrant metropolis. Net neutrality is already the boring old status quo. But don't give in to the cable/telco status quo either. Far better to have competition, as long as it's real, than let Congress shape the coming communications chaos and creativity.

Liberally taken from Robert J. Berger - Internet Bandwidth Development, LLC.
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