The Rise (and Approaching Fall) of the Duopoly

I wish I had a nickel for every time I heard someone say they couldn’t “get on the internet”.  Whether it’s via cable, DSL, 3G, or whatever, people are always having problems logging on.  It’s a baffling problem for me, because the internet evolved from ARPAnet, which was commissioned by the US Department of Defense forty years ago to be a completely reliable network.  So why, decades later, is “the internet” so “unreliable”?  The answer is that it’s not.  Individual connections (like mine and yours) may not be reliable, but the internet as a whole is incredibly reliable.  Any device connected to the internet can connect to billions of computers all over the world, seamlessly.

Ok, so why is your connection so unreliable? Don’t be so hasty to blame your service provider, although they certainly deserve it.  The real blame lies collectively with every consumer who currently pays for internet access.

One of the things that saddens me about the evolution of the internet is how it went from being a participatory network to a provider-consumer one.  Originally, the internet was a community of computers. Later, but before the broadband revolution, there were dozens of companies that offered internet via dial-up, which has a maximum speed of 56K, paltry by today’s standards. Broadband made dial-up obsolete, and the dial-up business crumbled.  Unfortunately, broadband required a direct connection to the home, and the only companies that could make that connection were the phone and cable companies.  Startup broadband just didn’t work.

Which brings us today, where your only options for wired broadband in most of New York City are Time Warner and Verizon (there are some small DSL companies that still exist out there, but they usually require you to have Verizon phone service already).  In other words, New York City residents face a duopoly when it comes to broadband internet service – they must choose between two mediocre, unreliable, bloated bureaucracies.

Considering how long the technology behind the internet has been around, surely there are other possibilities?  I believe there are, and in the coming years, I believe those possibilities will crystalize.

More on that in another post…