Thursday, June 09, 2005

The phone companies go federal --and thinking about real bandwidth

Om Malik comments on the phone companies' new push to "reform" telecom law at the federal level and nails the intent. Since the cable companies are so far ahead, the phone companies need the Feds to step in and save them. Outlining the success of the Bells' "give us an inch and we'll take a mile strategy," he says:
In other words, with carefully spent lobbying dollars, and masterful business/political strategy, Bells got whatever they wanted.

Till recently, when they met their match in local governments. The locals quickly dispatched the Bells state-wide video franchise plans, and Bells know this is a battle they cannot win easily. So what do they do? Wave Stars and Stripes, plead nationalism and cry...big bad broadband policy makers are pushing us down the broadband ladder. So lets change the national policies! Boohoo!
So the Bells want relief from having to do what the cable companies have to do. It is all about securing a competitive advantage over their rivals. And what the cablecos do that the phone companies do not want to do is to treat local communities like each one might have some unique needs and desires. (Worry about supporting any of South Louisiana's unique cultures? Nah, too complicated for us...) As far as companies like BellSouth are concerned, the real advantage is in not having to serve all citizens of an area equally--something that the cable companies are almost universally required to do in their local franchises. Even if the cable companies were exempted as well, they are already completely built out. Only the phone companies could benefit.

It's not a pretty picture.

But Om closes off an interesting project, one that isn't realizable on any of the incumbents system but which would be available on ours if Lafayette votes yes on July 16th:
How about giving consumers 100 megabits per second and letting them figure out what they want to do with it. Downloadable video, not IPTV makes more and more sense over the new fiber networks Verizon is building. Why build the same-old television, when you can build a new TV. Not a passive TV, but something better. A sort of hosted TiVo where consumers go to the web and build their own TV channel which comes down the fiber. Thinking different is hard, but in the end that is what is going to make Bells broadband standout, not complaining from the roof tops.
IPTV is, really, just a way to shoehorn a cable-lookalike into the bandwidth the newer technologies will make available to Telecos. But what would really be neat is what Om Malik is hoping for: a system that does away with channels entirely. Watch what you want when you want. Store your content online in huge, cheap (per gig) server farms. Three different TV's could be downloading at the same time, and with a few seconds' hesitation to buffer a few minutes worth of buffer, you could watch streaming video of your choice anywhere in the house. A parent could walk in, demand a kid start his or her homework, stop the show and only start it flowing again after the homework was done. Guests come to the door during the last 10 minutes of your favorite show? Just pause it, no need to be rude. Wanna stop the biography and check to see if Richard Nixon really said that? Pause it, switch to web browser mode and check it out on wikipedia. Store the video of your grandchild's Grand Isle birthday celebration and let the system stream it out for all his cousins to watch.

All this is as easy as pie with real bandwidth. And it isn't worth worrying about at the meager bandwidth the incumbents are willing to sell us at a reasonable price.

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