Maybe now, the citizens of the US will recognize a largely overlooked 2005 FCC ruling for what it was: the clever positioning of a bishop in a high stakes game of chess that looks to have ended today with a checkmate of Internet neutrality (aka "net neutrality"). In that ruling, broadband ISPs like AOL and Earthlink that needed right-of-way on one of the physical infrastructures (copper, cable, and/or fiber) that's owned by the local telco or cable company and that goes by just about every business and residence in US lost that right-of-way. That Internet — the one where we were free to do as we please — may very well have just been ditched by Congress. Long term, even though right-of-way dependent ISPs can cut new deals with the Baby Bells and cable operators to continue service provision, the economics will drive out consumer choice and we'll be left with two or in some cases just one company calling the shots on how bandwidth gets allocated.
Around the same time, Bob Frankston who champions preservation of the open principles on which the Internet was founded, wrote about the egads of bandwidth that's lying in our streets and how the Baby Bells are free to reserve up to 99 percent of it to compete against the cable companies with video on-demand services. It's not surprising that they'd want to do this. After all, the cable companies have been using their infrastructures to undermine the Baby Bells' traditional telephony businesses for years. With whatever paltry connectivity is left, video over the regular open Internet -- an idea that could easily wipe out the Blockbusters, Netflixes, Comcasts and Verizons -- can go and choke to death.
I guess they haven't heard of Bittorrent or things like it. Sooner or later, time-shifting -- the it-can-work-over a-1980's-class-300-BAUD-modem TiVo-like practice of caching something locally and consuming it at your convenience -- will render realtime broadcast services useless. On the other hand, they (the Baby Bells) must have seen this coming because today, their lobbyists were successful at snuffing the lights out of a relatively promising net neutrality bill that would have prevented those Baby Bells from further controlling what we might do with whatever limited bandwidth they allow us to have. Wrote IDG News Service's Grant Gross:
A U.S. House of Representatives subcommittee has rejected a proposal to strengthen provisions in a telecommunications reform bill that would prohibit broadband providers from blocking or impairing competing Web content and applications.
The Queen has arrived. Checkmate.
So, let's size things up. Outside your office or home, you'll eventually have one or maybe at most, two wireline Internet service providers. It may not be collusion, but have you ever seen how airlines like to play follow-the-leader. It isn't hard to imagine a world where (a) you're deprived of the full capability of the infrastructure at your curb, and (b) of what little capability your given, the provider calls the shots, and (c) how lack of anything that remotely resembles a free market for services leaves you with no options. Spend a lot of time on Google? Well, maybe you'll pay more. Or maybe Google will pay more. And maybe Google will have to figure out a way to pass the cost on to you to keep themselves in Wall Streets stratosphere? Oh, you want to use Skype? Bittorrent? Starz? Not so fast Buster. With the Internet, you controlled the vertical and horizontal. But that Internet -- the one where we were free to do as we please -- may very well have just been ditched by Congress.
Who or what can save us now? Maybe you can get together with your neighbors, build a wireless mesh network, and split the cost of the head end connection to the Internet. Or, perhaps there's already a public WiFi or a WiMAX net floating around your home or business. Or maybe you can stick a high speed EVDO card in your notebook or desktop, turn on connection sharing, and pump all of your house or business' traffic through Verizon Wireless or Sprint's network. Or, you could move to France where the government sometimes stands up for its citizens rather than big business. Yeah, this could get ugly.