Ryan Singel There’s a complicated fight in D.C. right now over how the FCC classifies broadband services, so it can regain the power to impose some basic rules on the industry.
Free-market groups and the industry are banging the table, arguing against the consequences — saying that the FCC is trying to regulate the internet and will kill innovation.
Here’s the simple truth: You don’t want your ISP to innovate.
At least not in the way, they want to “innovate.”
The net has seen an explosion of cool services in the last decade — Google created a search engine that works, Facebook created a social network that helps people stay more connected, webmail became a viable replacement for desktop software, you can collaborate online through wikis and online word processors, and everyone in the world can now have their own online printing press, thanks to blogging software. YouTube became the world’s online video repository, while Netflix and Hulu are demonstrating the future of online video rentals, and sites like Wikipedia, Yelp and IMDB put encyclopedias of knowledge at the disposal of anyone with a net connection and a bit of curiousity.
Where are the major players in the U.S. broadband industry in all of this innovation?
Basically, nowhere. The U.S. is 26th in the world in terms of online access. The industry’s investment in deployment of fiber optics — the transport medium of the future — is laughable (with the noted exception of Verizon, which has devoted significant money to its FiOS buildout — despite being punished by Wall Street for doing so.)
Instead, they are jealous of online services that make money from ads. AT&T’s former CEO Ed Whitacre famously declared that Yahoo and Google couldn’t use his pipes for free, failing to mention that it was the company’s paying customers who were requesting pages from those sites.
Now the industry’s paid pundit Scott Cleland, who runs a faux grassroots group called NETCompetition.org, is arguing that the government is trying to “shift the burden of Google-YouTube’s gigantic video distribution costs completely onto the backs of broadband consumers” by forcing ISPs to follow some fair play rules.
Cleland’s laughable argument depends on the idea that Google has some secret backdoor to the internet where they don’t pay to send YouTube videos or search results to its customers. In fact, Google has paid for or built huge swaths of internet fiber, builds massive data centers around the world to reduce the distance content has to travel to users and pays for bandwidth like any other company on the net.
Still, ISPs would love to find a way to be paid for both sides of their networks — from their users and from online services. And they want to get paid from the packets flowing inside their networks, too.