David Weinberger, in a recent essay, suggests that in order to preserve net neutrality we must “delaminate” the telco’s service from their infrastructure. We must fundamentally change the way that telcos do business:
“Delaminate the bastards. The only way to get Net Neutrality with teeth is by changing the business models of the businesses providing us with access. Peel apart the layers like a piece of rotting plywood.
The first layer will be for companies that want to provide access to the Internet. We’ll pay them to let us attach a computer, cell phone or any other device — even a Princess Phone, once we get it all VoIPed up — to the Internet and begin to send and receive bits. As many bits as we want. All bits treated equally. The companies can compete over price, bandwidth, uptime, and other properties of the network.
The upper layer will be for companies that want to provide content and services using the Internet.”
This is a very interesting idea that has been talked about by those of us at the ETel conferences, and I’m sure others, for the past few years. It is something that I have championed in my own fashion and career as well. This is a debate that will be fought for years in the halls of congress and in the marketplace.
I believe that the telcos should become pure infrastructure providers. They provide the wiring, fiber and core switching infrastructure while other companies rent space on that infrastructure to provide whatever services they want. This “upper layer”, as Weinberger calls it, includes voice, private data and Internet access right now, but might include other services down the line. The point of reducing the role of the telcos is to make a vendor neutral substrate (to borrow from the lumber analogy) that any service can be built on top of.
The telcos win because: they no longer have to deal directly with end customers, they can focus on pure networks that can expand and grow as their resellers see fit and they will have a more productive relationship with the regulatory agencies. The other players win because they know what they will be getting and how much it can be had for. As Weinberger says: “This is exactly the business architecture our economy, democracy and culture are thirsting for. We want to have companies competing to sell us more, better, faster access to the connected world. We want the services and the content — the things we can do, the ideas we can discuss — to grow like a crazy, bottom-up Renaissance.”
There is no reason that this model shouldn’t be put out to all of our utility companies such as wireless, power, radio, etc. The regulatory process already exists and would require few changes. The shareholders of the “line companies” would need to be convinced of the ultimate bottom-line profitability. None of these are obstacles that are difficult to overcome. I believe that the model would ultimately be more profitable for all parties involved.
We should all be having this discussion not only amongst ourselves, but with our congress people and our local utility commissions to bring about a new order in telecommunications. The US could be a model for deregulated markets in telecommunications, wireless and energy.