TheSalmonSpeaks: Net Neutrality

Occasional rants are good for the soul. If you disagree with the opinions expressed, please take it up with The Talking Salmon.

January 15th the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia struck down the FCC net neutrality regulations covering internet access. The press coverage digs into the arcane regulatory discussion around whether internet providers are “common carriers” or not, but of course this is really a heavyweight fight about money. In one corner are Verizon and their Internet Access Cartel (IAC) buddies, the cable companies. In the other corner are Google and their internet…well, there’s Google. Lurking in the shadows of the third corner are the traditional content providers, the axis-of-evil made up of the traditional TV networks, Hollywood, and their device friends making smart 3D super high definition large screens. Over there in the fourth corner are the cats and dogs like Netflix, HBO, and the new breed of independent short form internet content folks. OK, this is really more like one of those wrestling tag team matches than a heavyweight fight.

Here’s the deal. Going back nearly to the dawn of history when the log carvers and the log drummers fell out there has been an ongoing battle between people who develop content (those artistic types) and people who build the infrastructure to get content to the people who want it. The key lesson from history is that no matter the incentive, these tribes have utterly failed to intermarry. Content providers are bad infrastructure builders, and vice versa.

The Salmon agrees with the mantra used by broadcasters to justify letting broadcast networks wither on the vine: “Content is King”. Ultimately this is due to the “eyeball-bandwidth” product, the amount of information any individual can absorb at once (the Shannon limit for people) multiplied by the number of hours per day, generally not exceeding 24, times the 8 billion people in the world. It’s your eyeballs they want to own. As you can see, not counting a few benighted third world countries, we are nearing the theoretical eyeball-bandwidth product limit where it becomes simply a fight for market share. And people will opt for the highest value content…Content is King.

So, who’s on first? Google of course is the de facto monopoly intermediary for internet content. They want net neutrality, unless they can actually build a virtual network of Android devices, in which case they are against it. Verizon and friends are getting squeezed…land lines are dead, SMS revenue has dropped for the first time, the Internet of Things probably only needs that old 2G network, not 4G LTE, people are starting to drop cable subscriptions and there is significant pricing pressure on internet connectivity. Almost makes you feel sorry for them, and moving to extract higher revenue from the pipes through competitive access pricing is a rational move. With vertical integration the goal for everyone, you would think the broadcasters, Netflix and crew would be looking to buy Aereo instead of killing it, but then far-sightedness has not necessarily been a virtue in that world.

Technologists unite! Here’s what we could do, if we had the time. It might be that the Aereo court decisions make rebroadcast of initially free internet content OK, in which case small community ad hoc networks with one Verizon subscription, one cable subscription, etc. would be a great service to provide for your friends and neighbors. Seems like VPN tunnels to the “Free Internet” would re-disintermediate the greedy pipe guys. And of course innovation is a wonderful thing. Send your ideas and comments to The Talking Salmon, care of Daveknology. Remember: they’re your eyeballs.

David Ihrie is CTO of MACH37 and has been the lead technical person for six startup companies. He has a BS in EE/CS and an MS in Management specializing in the Management of Technological Innovation, both from MIT.