Infinite play

Video Is Dominating Internet Traffic, Pushing Prices Up says the headline of a piece by Saul Hansell in the New York Times. Its first three subheads say, File sharing has been usurped by legitimate video services, The very heaviest users drive up network costs and Unlimited data plans may have a limited life.

This is the wrong framing, by the wrong mentality. We’re not far from the day when most of us are “heavy users”, and when voice telephony (which has a relatively low data rate) is just one among countless data applications. It’s already that on laptops and many handheld devices (including mobiles using the likes of Fring).

In time the bulk of radio and television listening and viewing will move from analog to digital, and from broadcast bands to broadband. Some will be live, some will be stored and forwarded. Much will be mashed. Upstream needs will match downstream needs, especially for the millions who now producing as well as consuming video. Some top-down few-to-many asymmetries will persist, but many more any-to-any uses will arise, requiring symmetrical connectivity.

There are services besides raw bandwidth that can help with this — services that assist in mash-ups, that work with customers’ social graphs, that provide actual professional services (instead of higher-priced tiers that do nothing more than punish customers for saying they’re a business … a shakedown racket that should have died along with Ma Bell). There should emerge services that answer to customer-driven choices and preferences, that help demand drive supply, that support service needs in marketplaces opened by easy connectivity and fat capacity.

Carriers need to recognize that in the long run they are privileged to be in the Internet business, rather than cursed by something that undermines their old business models. They need to break out of their “triple-play” mentality and realize that on the Net there are an infinite number of “plays’, especially if those aren’t excluded by connections optimized for television or telephony, or subordinated to those other purposes.

Three things need to happen here.

  1. First, the carriers need to realize that they are Internet companies first, and phone or cable companies second — or will be, soon enough
  2. The carriers need to welcome and partner with independent Net-savvy developers who can help them think outside their own boxes, yet make the most of their privileged positions. We’ve all known there are benefits to incumbency besides charging rents. Now it’s time to find those and start making hay. (Oh, and lining up with Hollywood for lots of subscription distro deals is neither creative nor interesting.)
  3. The Net needs to be moved outside the framework of telecom regulation, to be freed from what Bob Frankston calls The Regulatorium. The Net was unimaginable to the 1934 Telecom act, and barely grokked by the 1996 update of that act. Questions about whether the Net is an “information service” or a “telecommunication service” are wacky, retro and not helpful, unless it’s to liberate it from the telecom trap.

But they shouldn’t wait for #3.

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  1. Dean Landsman’s avatar

    There is no real “Triple Play.” Rather, there is one connectivity instance (hooking up premises) for which users are given three different recurring billable events. A recurring monthly charge makes sense – after all, they do provide this service. How they bill for it, however, is another issue.

    When a cable or a fiber service offers TV (aka video from existing networks or channels, formerly known as “TV”), also offers voice (formerly known as phone service), and also offers internet connectivity, these are all merely billable events, all of which come from that original connection of pipe to premises.

    The TV service breaks down into subsets of billable events, such as VOD, premium channels, and so on.

    The phone service offers premium billing for certain “long distance” events, many of which are running on the net and are actually less expensive than the old paradigm of copper and undersea cable.

    The internet is simply basic connectivity, allowing users to join a network of other users enjoying a connection to the backbone. The upsell here is gigs of use (up or down).

    Bottom line: the costs to the companies of providing these services are nowhere near as high as the upsells and events would indicate. But until competitive offerings are allowed to flourish (and IMHO we can hope but should not set our expectation levels too very high, vis-a-vis the incoming administration), the small group of Big Cos controlling this environment will do all they can to control our connectivity, our access, and their ability to charge us for it on a premium and multiple level and event basis.

  2. Doc Searls’s avatar

    Well, Dean, I agree with about 98% of what you’re saying here. We differ in our faith regarding the intransigence of the carriers. I know a number of people (the same handful you know) in the business who get the clues and and see the writing on the wall. There is hope. Maybe not much, but some.

    Plus, the fact remains that these are going to become Internet companies whether they like it or not. Do we want to light their way or curse their darkness?

  3. John B’s avatar

    Doc Searls wrote, “Do we want to light their way or curse their darkness?”

    Yes, please. Extra helpings on both!

    Frivolity aside, we – everyone connecting via a cable or DSL hardpoint – need to be doing both.

    We need to light their way – show them where and how to make money without killing their golden goose, their servers, their bandwidth, etc.

    We also need to keep kicking those bureaucratic lumps right in the pocketbook whenever there’s a practical chance. It’s about the only stimulus they really respond to, I fear. (And note – practical choice. That is rare, but it does happen – too many monopolies and duopolies out there covering too many square miles, tho’…)

    Just my 2c…
    -John B

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