Sunday, June 15, 2008

U.S. broadband: Desperate ideas of an industry that resists change

Here's a piece that ran in TG Daily by Wolfgang Gruener lamenting the dreary state of U.S. broadband and the lack of the kind of technological and market competition seen elsewhere in the information technology industry. Some key excerpts:

Mainstream DSL speeds aren’t enough to support family broadband networks and new services such as multimedia streaming and I don’t even want to talk about the quality and reliability of the DSL service in my hometown. Broadband providers already are the most significant roadblock between consumers and new applications and now we are hearing that connections will see delays and/or extra charges when you take advantage of new high-bandwidth services.

Let’s be clear: There is zero entrepreneurial spirit and zero social responsibility left in today’s U.S. telecommunication industry. This industry is not about products and consumer trends anymore. It is about protecting a revenue base without exploring and providing new and existing services to customers at prices that avoid new divides between the rich and the poor.

Any industry naturally resists change. Change fosters uncertainty and business hates uncertainty. The broadband telecommunications industry by its very nature lacks robust competition. It is monopolistic and at best, duopolistic. The barriers to entry (the cost of overbuilding new physical plant, regulatory hurdles) are high and discourage new players from entering the market. Without these new players entering the market and creating change by offering superior products and services, there is no incentive for the incumbents to improve their offerings. This is why the broadband telecommunications industry behaves as if it doesn’t believe in its future. There isn’t really a future when its fundamental perspective is preserving the status quo.

We are increasingly likely to see government intervention in the broadband telecommunications industry in the next several years if it becomes public policy to regard modern telecommunications — which now encompass broadband Internet — as vital infrastructure and a natural monopoly as occurred with basic telephone service decades ago.

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