Google is not the enemy

Software can't prevent monopolies in the network space.
Written by Dana Blankenhorn, Inactive

The enemy of open source is not Google, not Microsoft, not Oracle, and not really the Bells.

It's monopoly. (As opposed to Monopoly, at right, the popular board game owned by Hasbro, now celebrating its 75th anniversary.)

I was surprised this morning to see my little piece on Google losing credibility over Android striking such a nerve with readers. Much of the discussion involved the question of whether Google is evil, if so how evil, and its growing role as an enemy of open systems.

Google is not an enemy of open systems. It is not a monopoly, either. It is a major competitor within its market space, and as of now mobile phones are not really its market space.

The same applies to Apple. Not really a monopoly. A monopoly implies you have no alternative, that there is no competition, and that you are giving money over to someone who isn't earning it.

What made open source necessary, and what drives it still, is the fact that it breaks down monopolies.

Microsoft is no longer a monopoly thanks to Linux and open source. The battle between Oracle and open source involves Oracle's continuing efforts to build a monopoly in the enterprise database space. The fight over TurboHercules involves IBM's efforts to retain its mainframe monopoly.

Open source fights monopolies by giving companies a shared level playing field against the monopolist, forcing the monopolist to compete. It is very effective at this, within the software space.

But software can't prevent monopolies in the network space. In the last mile of the network, the distance between your PC or handheld and the Internet, there is a shared monopoly today, what economists call an oligopoly.

Government created this situation.

Multiple, incompatible phone systems were seen as wasteful in the early 20th century. The idea of cable companies "overbuilding" one another in rich areas while refusing to serve poor ones was seen as bad policy in the late 1970s.

The deal was that government would countenance these monopolies, and in exchange the monopolists would accept regulation of their business practices.

Through lobbying and political action, the Bells and cable companies have overthrown most of this regulation. They have also been able to "buy" most of the electromagnetic spectrum, a public good which should be run for the public benefit, not monopoly interests.

What was built as shared infrastructure to be run in the public interest has, in our time, become private infrastructure run in the interests of the oligopoly. You see it in your cable bill, in your broadband bill, and you see it most clearly when you try to run Internet services on a mobile device.

Personally, I believe the best answer to this government-produced monopoly is government action. Demand wholesaling of the resource, just as core Internet capacity is wholesaled, so the vertical integration of the Bell, cable, and cellular carriers are done away with and competition can flower, as it does in open source.

Alternatively Google, which is the low-cost provider of Internet infrastructure of all kinds, should compete directly with the oligopoly and keep it honest. Deliver Google phones and tablets under a Google brand running on a Google network.

Failing both, American competitiveness suffers, because the competition that open source brings with it does not exist.

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