Tom Wheeler, Chairman of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), is moving to reclassify internet connections as a utility (“telecommunications service”) in a huge victory for Net Neutrality, consumers and businesses. We expect internet costs to keep dropping and for both producers and consumers of internet content to enjoy faster speeds with less interference from the carriers, a problem currently impacting a range of high tech firms and their customers.
Telecom carriers and cable companies wanted some convoluted system of tiered internet pricing to, essentially, grab some of the earnings of Netflix, YouTube and other content providers that are eating television’s lunch. They want you to go to their lame home pages when you go to a browser, they want to block or harass third party service providers for telephone service that are crushing their own subpar product offerings right now, and they want to ding you with penalties as a business or consumer for using their product a lot. If you haven’t followed the controversy, this is a good primer.
Bloomberg broke the story yesterday and Wheeler posted an op-ed in Wired. Astute stock watchers will note that Comcast, ATT and Verizon stock is all up this morning, which surprised me as they should all be tanking given that this is a huge loss for the carriers. The Bloomberg article points out that the quid pro quo to keep the telecom carrier lobbyists from completely losing their minds, and, fairly, to keep internet providers, well, providing internet and investing in their own products, is that the FCC will remove tariffs on internet access and, most important of all, will not force last-mile unbundling, a huge change in policy from current telecom internet access.
Currently, with Ethernet over Copper, T1 and PRI internet and phone service, AT&T or Verizon provide the physical circuit that connects your business to the Internet or Public Switched Telephone Network (PSTN). Companies like TelePacific and Windstream then rent that circuit wholesale from one of the Bell descendants and resell it to retail customers. The FCC is not going to require this going forward for internet circuits, which includes the geese laying golden eggs for the telecom carriers right now: fiber connections and cable internet.
We will see if in the long run this ends up re-creating a monopoly or duopoly for internet service, which is what happens with utilities in other aspects of our lives. I don’t have any choice in what power company or trash service I use at home. But, if I am getting 1Gbps at Google Fiber prices without getting dinged for using the internet a lot, I won’t care. I mention Google Fiber because it proves that ‘a better city is possible’ and that with the right kind of investment, telecom companies can yield affordable, blazing fast internet.
The end result for our voice over IP customers in Los Angeles, Orange County, Ventura, Riverside, San Diego and San Bernardino is that we ought to see faster service with less content blocking. We are – admittedly anecdotally – seeing suspicious problems with TimeWarner in particular, where VoIP traffic is not performing to spec across different platforms we sell. I can’t help but wonder if VoIP traffic is being slowed on purpose on otherwise fast connections.
For consumers, internet service ought to become cheaper, startups can continue to thrive in Silicon Beaches, Valleys and Alleys building new software and services to use, and I can keep on binging on Netflix and my other favorite digital content.