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Network neutrality in the wireless space

There’s been a tremendous amount written about the Google-Verizon joint proposal for network neutrality regulation. Our commentary at the EFF offers some legal analysis of the good and bad in this proposal. A lot of commentary has put a big focus on the exemption for wireless networks, since many feel wireless is the real “where it’s gonna be,” if not the “where it’s at” for the internet.

You may recall that earlier I wrote about support for the principles of a neutral network, but fear of FCC regulation and decided that the real issue here is monopoly regulation, not network regulation. My feelings remain the same. In wireless we don’t have the broadband duopoly, but it is a space with huge barriers to entry, the biggest one being the need to purchase a monopoly on spectrum from the government. I don’t believe anybody should get a monopoly on spectrum (either at auction or as a gift) and each spectrum auction is another monopoly bound to hurt the free network. Most defenders of the exemption for wireless think it’s obvious. Bandwidth in wireless is much more limited, so you need to manage it a lot more. Today, that’s arguably true. I have certainly been on wireless networks that were saturated, and I would like on those networks to have the big heavy users discouraged so that I can get better service.

As I said, on those networks. Those networks were designed, inherently, with older more expensive technology. But we know that each year technology gets cheaper, and wireless technology is getting cheaper really fast, with spectrum monopolies being the main barrier to innovation. We would be fools to design and regulate our networks based on the assumptions of the year 2000 or even on the rules of 2010. We need to plan a regime for what we expect in 2015, and one which adapts and changes as wireless technology improves and gets cheaper. Planning for linear improvement is sure to be an error, even if nobody can tell you exactly what will be for sale in 2015. I just know it won’t be only marginally better or cheaper than what we have now.

The reality is, there is tons of wireless bandwidth — in fact, it’s effectively limitless. Last week I got to have dinner with Marty Cooper, who built the first mobile phone, and he has noticed that the total bandwidth we put into the ether has been on an exponential doubling curve for some time, with no signs of stopping. We were in violent agreement that the FCC’s policies are way out of date and really should not exist. (You’ll notice that he’s holding a Droid X while I have the replica Dyna-Tac. He found it refreshing to not be the one holding the Dyna-Tac.)  read more »