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Rebuilding a competitive Internet market

It shows just how far we have gone in recent times that those who, like me, suggest anti-trust enforcement return to the Internet access space are called communist or socialist. I don't think those terms mean what these people think they mean.

Sen. John Sherman, from Wikipedia
One of the comments on the previous thread got to me.

"The only way to deal with companies not providing you with the service you want is to boycott them. They have a right to run their ISP any way they want just as long as they are upfront with their intentions and they do not break any laws. Banning bittorrent or any other P2P program is not illegal just so long as you disclose it in your terms of use. It seems that companies like to pull fast ones that are justified internally by harming sales if the policy they persue is an unpopular one. Of course no one seems to think about blowback when it is revealed."

This is an important point which needs to be discussed.

The U.S. Internet market is no longer competitive.

Two companies, Verizon and AT&T, control the vast bulk of the U.S. Internet backbone. In most areas only two companies, either of the above and a cable operator like Comcast, offer broadband services.

We can argue about why this is. We can argue about the motivation, whether it was natural or man-made. The fact is that a decade ago there were about 14,000 ISPs in the U.S., served by slick magazines such as Boardwatch. I don't know how many there are today. But for most of of it's only two.

This means you can't just "boycott" Comcast when it chooses to control what you do and not tell you about it. In many ways we're back to the days of the Bell System, only without the regulation which protected consumers but also slowed the pace of change.

It's monopoly which is now slowing the pace of change. The real speed offered to U.S. broadband customers hasn't really increased in a decade, despite enormous improvements in the cost and capability of equipment. Terms and conditions of use have deteriorated steadily.

It was to fight this that anti-trust laws were first passed, in the 1890s. The sponsor of the first such act, Republican Senator John Sherman (above), was the brother of Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman, of Civil War fame. This was not a radical or communist movement. This was a conservative and Republican movement.

It shows just how far we have gone in recent times that those who, like me, suggest anti-trust enforcement return to the Internet access space are called communist or socialist. I don't think those terms mean what these people think they mean.

Regardless, the answers for our present Internet problems, and the future health of the open source movement itself, may now rest beyond the market's ability to correct.

Oh, and don't tell me Google is going to ride to the rescue. They might. But three choices just gives you an oligopoly, what you might call a Coke-Pepsi monopoly, and a can of fizzy water costs $1.25 for a reason.