Friday, May 05, 2006

Bonfire of the Monopolists

In most places around the country, consumers are limited to zero, one or two choices for broadband connections to the Internet. I, for example, live in a metro area and have two choices: DSL from the phone company and cable from -- er -- my cable provider. My neighbors to the north have exactly one choice for broadband: DSL.

And with the mergers among the carriers, we're down to two telephone companies and a handful of cable operators. Which doesn't leave anyone interested in competition with a warm and fuzzy feeling.

The Carriers: Dedicated to Reducing Choice

The market for last-mile services might have been more competitive had the carriers not spent significant time and capital fighting municipal wi-fi or, for that matter, spending more on lobbyists than on application R&D.

In point of fact, the telcos have spent most of their energy attempting to reduce choice for last-mile services, even down to battling the city of New Orleans over its deployment of WiFi during the Katrina reconstruction.

We must also ask ourselves why the carriers spend so much on lobbyists and lawyers rather than value-creating applications like Skype, YouTube, and Vonage? The answer is that the carriers believe they can magically legislate value-creation by exterminating net neutrality and erecting tollbooths all over the Internet. And, of course, they are wrong.

Meanwhile, Cisco and other networking vendors are hawking hardware to the carriers that is utterly ominous in nature. It appears designed to analyze, block, filter, meter, and otherwise meddle with Internet traffic to financially benefit the carriers. In fact, they almost come right out and giggle over the capability of degrading applications that are competitive to the carriers' offerings.

Democracy versus Communism

And, yet, somehow the "let the free market decide" crew over at Townhall believes that this is a Democrat vs. Republican issue. Someone has convinced a few of these folks that letting the carriers destroy the current state of neutrality is a good thing.

Despite the attempts to portray it as such, this is not a Democrat vs. GOP issue. It is a Democracy versus Communism issue. Do we want the continued invention of thousands of new, diverse applications like Skype, Google, and Vonage? Or do we want a centralized planning committee at the carriers' headquarters to decide which startups live or die?

Plenty of conservatives -- from the Gun Owners of America, to Right Wing News, Instapundit, etc. -- support net neutrality. And more are joining the cause every day.

It's easy to see why. When net neutrality was violated in Canada recently, the results weren’t pretty. In that case, a telco blocked access to a political website whose views ran counter to its opinions. Consider that for just a moment.

Furthermore, such an environment destroys innovation. Even today, with a political landscape that seems to favor the carriers' stance, innovation has stalled. Stifel Nicolaus, an analyst quoted in Business Week, stated, "Right now, I would never invest in a business model that depended on protection from Net neutrality."

So who will fund the next great Internet idea? The answer is: no one. The result of killing off neutrality will be more censorship, less innovation, and will place America's Internet leadership position at risk.

The fathers of the Internet say...

The current state of the Internet -- the one that has resulted in such immense value creation -- is network neutrality. What the telcos are supporting is the extermination of neutrality and neutering the FCC's ability to enforce it.

Bob Kahn (co-inventor of TCP/IP), Vint Cerf (Godfather of the Internet), and Tim Berners-Lee (inventor of the web) all favor network neutrality. But I suppose the telco lobbyists know more about the network then they do.

America's leadership in Internet innovation (and, by extension, its national security) hangs in the balance. Go to today and take action.

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