Telecom Trouble

Via Slashdot:

“AT&T Inc. and BellSouth Corp. are lobbying Capitol Hill for the right to create a two-tiered Internet, where the telecom carriers' own Internet services would be transmitted faster and more efficiently than those of their competitors.”

This is very bad. Lawrence Lessig, in his book “The Future of Ideas“, pointed out that the rich innovation of the internet stems largely from its infrastructure – you can write a program on one end of the internet and another one on the other end, and you generally don't have to worry about what's going on in the middle (except for connection speed). The internet is open to new ideas – that's how we have things like iTunes, IM, and RSS, applications that were not envisioned by the internet's creators. Contrast this to a telephone line – internet access requires a horrific amount of screeching and hissing. That's because phone lines were designed with voice communication in mind – anything else requires engineered arm-twisting. The internet wasn't specifically designed for anything, so it can handle anything. That's its power. This is all from Lessig's book.

Back to the article – by introducing a second tier, users are no longer guaranteed a consistent, open behavior. They are going to have to start designing applications around an internet “optimized” for (read “tied to”) video technology. At the very least, this means the playing field will no longer be level. It also means that innovation will go downhill, since developers can no longer be sure that their systems will interact with the internet the way they expect. Innovation will now be bottlenecked with the politics of negotiating with telcos.

An interesting point:

“Cable TV companies like Comcast Corp. have invaded the telecoms' main business, telephone service. The telecoms want to strike back by offering Internet-based television. They want to offer all the programs now available on cable, as well as movie and game trailers, and full-length films.”

Yes – Voice Over IP is now a significant threat to telephone companies, and with technologies like WiMax on the horizon, even cell phone companies are in danger. The telcos naturally want to leverage their assets. Buuuut… as I pointed out, if this comes at the expense of killing the internet (or “transforming it from an open forum for ideas into nothing more than cable television on speed”, in Lessig's words), it's really an unacceptable move. It's a tough world, my telecom conglomerate friends…



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