Building the Information Squeezeway

Some encouraging words here about Verizon’s expected 4G data rates:

After testing in the Boston and Seattle areas, the provider estimates that a real connection on a populated network should average between 5Mbps to 12Mbps in download rates and between 2Mbps to 5Mbps for uploads. Actual, achievable peak speeds in these areas float between 40-50Mbps downstream and 20-25Mbps upstream.The speed is significantly less than the theoretical 100Mbps promised by Long Term Evolution (LTE), the chosen standard, but would still give Verizon one of the fastest cellular networks in North America.

No mention of metering or data caps, of course.

Remember, these are phone companies. They love to meter stuff. Its what they know. They can hardly imagine anything else. They are billing machines with networks attached.

In addition to the metering problems Brett Glass details here, there is the simple question of whether carriers can meter data at all. Data ain’t minutes. And metering discourages both usage and countless businesses other than the phone companies’ own. I have long believed that phone and cable companies will see far more business for themselves if they open up their networks to possibilities other than those optimized for the relocation of television from air to pipes.

Data capping is problematic too. How can the customer tell how close they are to a cap? And how much does fearing overage discourage legitimate uses? And what about the accounting? My own problems with Sprint on this topic don’t give me any confidence that the carriers know how gracefully to impose data usage caps.

There’s a lot of wool in current advertising on these topics too. During the Academy Awards last night, Comcast had a great ad for Xfinity, its new high-speed service, promoted entirely as an entertainment pump. By which I mean that it was an impressive piece of promotion. But there was no mention of upstream speeds (downstream teaser: 100Mb/s). Or other limitations. Or how they might favor NBC (should they buy it) over other content sources. (Which, of course, they will.)

Sprint‘s CEO was in an another ad, promoting the company’s “unlimited text, unlimited Web and unlimited calling…” Right. Says right here in a link-proof pop-up titled “Important 4G coverage and plan information”, that 4G is unlimited, but 3G (what most customers, including I, still have) is limited to “5GB/300MB off-network roaming per month.” They do list “select cities” where 4G is available. Here’s Raleigh. I didn’t find New York, Los Angeles, Chicago or Boston on the list. I recall Amarillo. Can’t find it now, and the navigation irritates me too much to look.

Anyway, I worry that what we’ll get is phone and cable company sausage in Internet casing. And that, on the political side, the carriers will succeed in their campaign to clothe themselves as the “free market” fighting “government takeovers” while working the old regulatory capture game, to keep everybody else from playing.

So five, ten years from now, all the rest of the independent ISPs and WISPs will be gone. So will backbone players other than carriers and Google.  We’ll be gaga about our ability to watch pay-per-view on our fourth-generation iPads with 3-d glasses. And we won’t miss the countless new and improved businesses that never happened because they were essentially outlawed by regulators and their captors.

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21 comments

  1. Brett Glass’s avatar

    Google has become more effective than the large carriers at regulatory capture (though the FCC is being nice to them too; it’s promising them lots of licensed spectrum that small providers like mine won’t get a crack at due to the Commission’s auction regime). That’s why we’re seeing a move toward “network neutrality” regulation. Google and its captive lobbying groups (e.g. Free Press, Public Knowledge) are #1 in poltitical influence right now; the ILECs are #2; cable is behind at #3. And small business does not even seem to be on the map, alas. There is no sign that the broadband plan will include any spectrum that we will be able to access, for love or money.

  2. Doc Searls’s avatar

    I don’t doubt that Google has clout, but Free Press and Public Knowledge are no match for AT&T’s long-standing relationship with Rahm Emanuel and a host of others. Don’t know how all of it adds up, but it does look like cross-species mating of whales.

    And yes, small business is not on the map. Nor is spectrum opening of any kind.

    In other words, pick your bad news. There’s plenty to go around.

  3. Brett Glass’s avatar

    Free Press and Public Knowledge seem to get “special access” (in a different sense of the phrase) as a result of being lobbyists for Google. According to ex parte memos they’ve filed with the FCC, they have had at least as many audiences with the Chairman as AT&T.

    But despite having been said to be an entrepreneur, FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski has never sat town to talk with a single one of the true entrpreneurs of telecomm: independent ISPs and WISPs. Why?

    As for spectrum: the DoJ, in a very insightful filing with the FCC, recently noted what I have been saying for years: the foreclosure value of spectrum so much exceeds its utility value that incumbents have an overwhelming incentive to buy it at ridiculous prices to lock out competition.

    So, what’s a small, local businessman to do when his business is entirely regulated by a faraway entity that doesn’t seem to give a hoot about local business?

  4. Seth Finkelstein’s avatar

    Brett, don’t fixate on relatively small players like Free Press and Public Knowledge, just because they’re relatively large in terms of public visibility. That’s just a sideshow to the main circus. The pure lobbying firms are much more influential.

    Doc – my favorite metaphor is not whales, but elephants (as in, when elephants battle, the grass suffers).

    Anyway, for both of you, this is an interesting article:

    http://www.siliconbeat.com/2010/02/01/more-on-google-lobbying-and-influence/
    “In just four years, Google has become the valley’s second largest company when it comes to lobbying expenditures.”

  5. Sem Pakistan’s avatar

    small business is not on the map. Nor is spectrum opening of any kind.

    In other words, pick your bad news. There’s plenty to go around.

  6. Doc Searls’s avatar

    Sem, did you mean to repeat verbatim what I wrote several comments up?

  7. PJ’s avatar

    The best way to change the market is with a business: Epson changed the printer market, IBM changed the PC market.

    So, given that, maybe it’s time for someone who knows how to run one to start a carrier. Value prop: flat fee unlimited data @ X Mbps. Resell Sprint/Verizon/Clear/etc’s 4G (or heck, even 3G) network – price it high enough to cover your average user and let the law of large numbers work for you. Note: this business plan comes with an expiration date, which is whenever the carriers figure out they should be donig this themselves.

  8. Brett Glass’s avatar

    PJ, bandwidth and spectrum are too expensive for that. Users would never pay enough for that service to make it financially viable.

  9. Brett Glass’s avatar

    BTW, isn’t Google a major contributor to Berkman?

  10. Seth Finkelstein’s avatar

    PJ – regarding “price it high enough to cover your average user and let the law of large numbers work for you.” – this is a big “Tried it, DIDN’T WORK!”. That’s exactly what the carriers were doing in some cases, and the “average user” turning into the “maximum user” for various reasons caused all sorts of problems.

  11. Doc Searls’s avatar

    Not meaning to pile on, PJ; but I’m with Brett and Seth on this one.

    I do believe that the carriers can find plenty of ways to make money, however. Among other things, they have lots of conveniently located real estate, much of it with space to burn and ample well-conditioned electric power — not to mention low latency connections to thousands or millions of customers. There are lots of geeks who can think of interesting stuff to put in those spaces and sell as services, utilities and so on. I know that some of the carriers are already renting space for servers to the likes of Amazon.

    They could also make life easier rather than harder for enterprising entrepreneurs such as Brett, who know better how to serve customers and make things work in a given locality. And there’s money in that too.

    They just need to be creative. But I know that’s asking a lot.

  12. Seth Finkelstein’s avatar

    Brett, regarding “BTW, isn’t Google a major contributor to Berkman?” – I’d say “major partner” is the best phrase. For example:

    http://www.infoworld.com/d/security-central/google-tech-companies-back-stopbadware-coalition-332
    “Google, tech companies back Stopbadware Coalition”

  13. Doc Searls’s avatar

    StopBadware became a standalone organization in January. That Google supports StopBadware does not make Google a “major partner” of Berkman.

  14. Seth Finkelstein’s avatar

    Note “for example”. But that Google was a major funder (presumably) for four years of a major Berkman project, then funded it as it spun-off, does seem to me to make Google a “major partner” of Berkman.

    http://cyber.law.harvard.edu/about/support
    “Support for Current Activities”
    “We warmly thank the following sponsors for their sponsorship of the Berkman Center’s research and events. When sponsorship is project-specific, sponsors will also appear directly on project pages.”
    And in the list, we find “Google, Inc.”

    Then there are the various policy people who have Berkman connections, and projects which are general in concept, but benefit Google in specific enormously (e.g. Global Network Initiative – who are the charter “Company Members” – Microsoft, Yahoo, Google).

    That’s not to assert the Berkman Center is a puppet of Google, that would be an overstatement. However, there is quite an extensive, let us say, alliance.

  15. Doc Searls’s avatar

    Seth, there are lots of personal connections between people at Berkman, Harvard, Harvard Law School, Google, other companies, the U.S. Government and other entities. That much is plain. One can infer “alliances” and other nouns any way one pleases.

    As for funding, it hasn’t been my topic, and questions about it are best answered by those whose business it is.

    I know that in my 3.5 years hanging out at Berkman I have not felt influenced, personally, by any company. Nor have I seen that in others.

    I have noticed much agreement among Berkman folk — as individuals — around some issues. Net neutrality is one of those. In fact, it is because we (as individuals) have been something of an amen corner for NN that I invited Brett to speak in December, and a few months before that was glad to have Richard Bennett come hang out too. There are many ways in which I think Berkman should broaden out.

  16. Seth Finkelstein’s avatar

    It seems to me a prosaic observation that large project funding + POLICY connections + various other stuff adds up to “major partner”. It’s not like the basic facts are disputable – just take a look at the web pages I’ve referenced above.

    Regarding “influenced”, well, this is the point where I’m at a severe disadvantage, since even though you’re a nice guy, you retain the positional power to slam me even if I’m right (maybe especially if I’m right!).

    Your outreach and coalition-building efforts are quite laudable.
    (recall my view, often cynically expressed, that Brett might do well to work alongside the Berkman Center)

  17. Brett Glass’s avatar

    If Berkman really were diverse and impartial, wouldn’t there be varying opinions there about onerous “network neutrality” regulation? This by itself sets off alarm bells.

  18. Doc Searls’s avatar

    Seth, we’ve never agreed about what you’re now calling my “positional power,” so I’m not sure it’s worth going over again. Points taken on your criticisms of Berkman, and agreed on your advice to Brett.

    And Brett, there have been varying opinions around Berkman on net neutrality regulation. My own position is at odds with the majority of folks there, I’m sure. I also don’t believe it matters as much as you think it does. FWIW, I’ve argued for years that there is too little agreement on what the Internet is to begin with — a position on which I’m pretty much alone both within Berkman and the world at large.

    Even respecting the improvements that guys like Julius Genachowki and Aneesh Chopra have brought to their technology bureaucracies, the trend seems to be toward respecting the carriers’ intentions to replace the Net with TV 2.0. I think you and folks from Berkman should find common cause in opposing that.

  19. Brett Glass’s avatar

    The problem, Doc, is that “replacing the Net with TV 2.0″ is not a “network neutrality” issue. The proposed “network neutrality” regulation would strangle small ISPs like mine without stopping nasty business practices by content providers (e.g. ESPN360 shaking down ISPs for per-user fees, or HBO requiring users to be a cable subscriber — and not offering another way to pay — to view online video). So, we have the worst of both worlds: the “net neuts” are lobbying to regulate what doesn’t need regulation, while failing to opt for regulation that IS necessary. “Ready, fire, aim.”

  20. Brett Glass’s avatar

    By the way, for those who doubt Google’s influence: Note the shout-out to Google in Chairman Genachowski’s speech at http://bit.ly/bRPZKO. Also note the shout-out to the Knight Foundation (which Google supports heavily and which — as I mentioned above — has Google execs as administrators and funds Berkman). Genachowski also chose Knight and the New America Foundation (a think tank that’s wholly owned and operated by Google) as the sites of recent speeches regarding the broadband plan. Is my industry to be regulated according to the whims of Google, just because it’s spread so much money around? How come the press isn’t commenting more on this? (Could it be because Google, with its acquisition of Doubleclick, cornered the market on online banner ads and thus is the largest source of revenue for many newspapers and blogs?)

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