Archive for August, 2009

Net Neutrality Is In The Air

by on Aug.25, 2009, under politics, society, tech

It might seem that we are winning, or at least not losing the net neutrality war right now. Or are we?

By we, I mean everyone that is not in the telecommunications business, and by winning, I mean that we are not dealing with our network providers deciding whose content and programs we can or can not run across the “last mile” of our internet connections. Web pages, cable tv, voice…it’s all bits. VOIP, streaming media, the democratization of media, the connection of the free world and even the explosion of what we used to call e-commerce back in the Nineteen Hundred and Nineties all happened because the network providers were not allowed/didn’t think of/were too incompetent to restrict access to the Internet.

Since many of our network providers (Time Warner, etc) are also content providers, they must be watched carefully so they do not abuse their position to advantage their other businesses. This is hugely important for fostering innovation. The last 15 years changed how we live, and simply couldn’t have happened if new ideas needed sponsorship and funding in order for an audience to see them.

If you are opposed to Network Neutrality, please issue yourself a generous dividend from the telecommunications provider you must have an ownership stake in and start considering your exit strategy. If you do not have any such financial position and still think that cable and telcos have your interests in mind, please shoot yourself.

I believe that our present and future is best served when we operate in the kind of market where new ideas can thrive, and the open Internet has shown itself to be an incredible laboratory for this. Net Neutrality was the plank in Obama’s platform that let me know that we were moving past “A Series of Tubes” in Washington, and that the good guys might even win this one. So far, so good, and it is a victory for all of us and our future that so far, anyone can set up a website and/or web service that anyone can get to.

However, another front in this fight has been ignored…up until now. Here is fresh evidence that some people in Washington are paying attention.

Previously, mobile providers have locked down on what we can do and how we can do it, and we’ve let them. The multiple handset makers and carriers provided at least the appearance of competition. Then, the breakthrough: Apple’s App Store. In less than a year and a half: 65,00 applications, 1.5 billion downloads, and from what I can tell, a lead as a mobile platform that is going to be really hard for anyone to catch up to.

A typical life cycle for a technology is for it to appear as innovation, to go through a generation or two of refinement, and then to become commoditized. Everyone enjoys the benefit of competition to provide the commodity, whether it is cars, groceries, or anything else where we have choice and open competition. Apple’s dark genius is that they only appear to have provided a platform where mobile apps can be commoditized and innovated on…as long as you support their hardware on their exclusive carrier.

In reality, they control the hardware, the operating system, and even the developer kit. This is similar to their personal computing model, except adding the idea that they get to evaluate and decide which applications can be run. Everyone craps on Microsoft about their competitive practices, with plenty of justification. Developers can still write whatever software they want for Windows, and don’t need to get Microsoft’s approval to release it to consumers. Microsoft doesn’t control the hardware AND pick your ISP, either.

There is a great deal of change and innovation to come over the next couple decades until we get to ubiquitous portable computing. Maybe application virtualization could make our mobile devices simple interfaces, provided wireless platforms and carriers don’t prevent it.

If we could go back to 1990, would we have let Windows become the standard for at least the next two decades? What will we think about the App Store in 2029?

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