Net Neutrality and the Naked Internet

Just when we thought this whole Net neutrality thing was over, Verizon threw a little gasoline on the burning embers. The thing is, there are many good points on both sides of the Net neutrality argument. So how can we decide which way to go?

It turns out the best solution may be on the third side.

My Pick of the Week is a new service AT&T Mobility is launching to disable lost or stolen iPhones. I love this idea.

Imperfect World

First, Net neutrality. It boils down to the basic decision we need to make as a country. There are three different tracks we can take, and we have to choose one.

One, broadband is just another service from the phone company or cable television company. They control everything, including which sites get the fastest speeds.

Two, broadband is our way to access the Internet so every site gets the same fast speed and customers decide which services they use. This lets customers choose companies other than their telephone and television companies.

The choice is really that simple.

Access providers get a competitive advantage right now — they can throttle back the speed of competitors. The alternative is all sites having equal speed with the customers getting to choose the companies and services they want to use.

The basic question is who should be in control — the customer or the provider?

Carriers like Verizon obviously want to retain control. That’s the way they’ve always done things. That’s the way they want to continue to do things. It’s in their best interests. This is the Internet we all know and understand. Looking at it from their perspective, I can understand their argument completely.

However, customers also want control. After all, this is a service they are paying for — it’s not free. New services are popping up, and customers want the freedom to choose them. Google, Netflix and others are on this side of the argument. Looking at it from their perspective, I can also understand their argument completely.

However, these are two opposing positions, so we simply have to choose one way or the other. If customers get their way, then they can select the competitors they use. If companies get their way, they control this and can use it as a competitive advantage.

In a perfect world, we’d have more choices and this would actually be easy. The marketplace would choose. If customers didn’t like one option, they would simply choose another. The loss of customers would be enough to steer most providers where the customers wanted to go.

The problem is this is not a perfect world. We don’t have enough choices.

Break-Up Time?

Most customers have only two real options for an Internet connection: the local telephone company or the local cable television company. And both sides take the same position on Net neutrality.

New and innovative companies and services need the Internet to connect with customers and compete with telephone and cable television companies.

Looking at it this way, Net neutrality seems appropriate. Carriers disagree, obviously.

Comcast was throttling down the speed of competitors. Customers and competitors complained. The FCC jumped in, punished Comcast, and set Net neutrality into play.

Now Verizon is weighing in, calling those same FCC rules arbitrary, capricious and unconstitutional.

We can all agree with the carriers to a point. After all, we would not want anyone getting in our way — including the government — after we had invested billions to build a network.

However, there is more to this decision that that. Ten years ago, when the Internet was still young, this was not important. However as each year passes, new ways do to things are born and the Internet becomes much more important and necessary for every citizen.

It is providing new ways to communicate, get news, information and entertainment.

The way we think of a product changes over time. Remember renting movies from Blockbuster? Now we can either order a movie from Comcast over its network, or we can download a movie over the Internet from a competitor like Netflix. We no longer pace through the aisles of a video rental store.

Competition, innovation and technology are beautiful, right? From a free market perspective, the choice should be in the customer’s hands.

The problem is this: New competitors like Netflix cannot become Internet service providers. However, they need the Internet to grow.

Comcast and Verizon, on the other hand, are in both positions. They offer content like Netflix and an Internet connection.

That is the growing conflict.

Perhaps it’s time to separate the Internet service provider business into a separate sector so we don’t hinder growth.

The FCC weighed in with its Comcast action last year. Now Verizon is jumping in. We know the direction the government is going with this.

So we have a basic choice: Protect carriers’ rights to have a competitive advantage but limit growth and innovation in the industry; or change things and allow the market to make its own choices, fueling growth and innovation.

Either way, carriers should make a profit selling access. There is no question about that. However, perhaps it’s time to have Internet access become a sector of its own.

Door No. 3

There is another solution — the third path. The good news is, it’s already there — we just have to follow it.

Today we have two ways to access the Internet — telephone or cable television company.

What about the naked Internet? We actually have this now from phone companies. The reason you never heard of it is that although carriers are forced to offer it, they don’t talk about it in their marketing or advertising.

Cable television companies are not required to offer it — why, I can’t tell you.

What about publicizing the naked Internet as another choice? Would that work? It just might.

Rather than imposing Net neutrality, why not start promoting the naked Internet? Tell cable television companies they also need to make it available to their customers as an option.

Perhaps this simple solution is all we need. The good news is it is already in place with phone companies. Will the cable television companies agree to get involved? Not by choice.

All we have to do is start advertising, marketing and promoting this option. That way, customers can make the choice themselves.

This would give companies like Verizon and Comcast the incentive to be more innovative to keep customers using their Internet.

This would also give other companies like Google and Netflix the incentive to be more innovative and to grow in a competitive marketplace.

If the naked Internet already exists, why hasn’t it worked? Simple. Very few know about it. It is not marketed or advertised. Easy solution to this problem right?

So these are the three choices we have today. This is the crux of the Net neutrality dilemma.

Let’s make a decision already and let Verizon and Comcast and all the networks, and all the new competitors like Google and Netflix get on with building the business.

It’s time to make a decision and unleash the power of the Internet once again. iPhone 4

My Pick of the Week is a service AT&T Mobility has launched to disable lost or stolen iPhones. This is what we have been waiting for!

Add this app to the remote data-wipe app, and both your data and your phone can be unusable should you lose it.

AT&T announced a service that will block iPhones without forcing a device wipe that would erase any unsaved data. That’s a separate app.

Contact customer service to get the app. Just remember to use the remote data-wipe app before suspending the device, or all your valuable data will still be there for the bad guys to check out, even though the phone doesn’t make calls.

In April, national carriers AT&T Mobility, Verizon Wireless, Sprint Nextel and T-Mobile USA announced that together with the FCC and police departments, they would create a national database of stolen phones.

The goal is to disable phones and prevent them from being sold on the black market.

Every customer and every carrier should have this feature on every smartphone. This is a great start toward protecting smartphone customers.

Right now, this new feature is available only on the AT&T iPhone.

Jeff Kagan

E-Commerce Times columnist Jeff Kagan is a tech analyst and consultant who enjoys sharing his colorful perspectives on the changing industry he's been watching for 25 years. Email him at [email protected].

1 Comment

  • In Boise, Idaho, we have another option for getting internet: direct fiber. Several companies are wiring the valley for direct fiber that supports very fast internet and patches direct to a Tier1 provider. And since they are a cable provider and not an internet provider, they don’t care about content. Price is reasonable and coming down for non-commercial.

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