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Government

Why network neutrality is not dead

Google isn't trying to bring fiber to every home. It doesn't have to. Its threat to compete has broken a political monopoly, making people think of broadband in a different way, and encouraged the idea that market competition is our best protection in the net neutrality debate.
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Written by Dana Blankenhorn, Inactive on

The U.S. Appeals Court has kicked the idea of net neutrality, as applied by the FCC, to the curb.

(This was Google's logo on April 1, 2010.)

The FCC says it will fight on. Congresscritters insist they will be heard from.

Big deal. The Bells can beat both with one wire tied behind their backs.

There's really only one reason why Comcast, AT&T and Verizon aren't handing out bandwidth with an eye-dropper and telling you what Web sites you may or may not visit right now.

Google.

Mike Loukides at O'Reilly was among the first to grok this truth. As I have written here many times, Google has a huge cost advantage when it comes to creating Internet transactions of all kinds -- search, file transfers, you name it. It has spent its corporate life fighting this cost battle, and its victories give it the whip hand in the core of the network.

But if monopolies exist at the edge, and if the monopolists at that edge choose to press home their monopoly, then Google's cost advantages in the core mean nothing. If a monopoly ISP wants to make Bing searches look faster they can. If they want to slow YouTube to a crawl they can. If they just want to demand bribes to allow access to "their" customers, they can.

So despite the fact it's a cash sink, Google must be a threat at the network edge, at least until rules are in place banning its disenfranchisement or until some other form of competition arrives.

I have written to the point of boring you that wholesaling the last mile would assure competition, provide market incentives for more bits (rather than fewer) at the edge, and bring Moore's Law to your doorstep, faster than anything else.

Most political analysts who have looked at the question have concluded that this is politically impossible. The Bells are just too strong.

That's another reason why Google's presence at the edge, or the threat of that presence, is vital. Its fiber contest set state regulators and urban leaders scrambling to create conditions that would help them win. Google's relationship with Topeka is just one illustration of just how far cities will go.

In taking that journey, state and local authorities learn just how much of a stranglehold the present broadband monopoly has on their economies. That's a political message no amount of contributions to a candidate can match.

The best response Bell shills like Scott Cleland can offer in response is that the Google is in bed with the Obama Administration (as if the Bells and Bushies weren't closer than circuit lines on a RAM chip).

More important, however, is that the charge does not address the threat, which is that local and state authorities will learn the link between more bits and growth, figure out they've been had, and demand change. Every city and town applying to Google for fiber is learning this lesson.

Google isn't trying to bring fiber to every home. It doesn't have to. Its threat to compete has broken a political monopoly, making people think of broadband in a different way, and encouraged the idea that market competition is our best protection in the net neutrality debate.

Which it is.

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