More historical perspective on net neutrality

As the politics of the Internet have shifted over the past several years away from discussions of monopoly (or duopoly) control of the last mile (or first mile), the more it becomes clear to me that the telcos have achieved a powerful win.

By even making the debate be about “net neutrality” the very nature of the war has changed, for the worse (worse for us, better for the telcos).

Let’s look again at the history of the net here. Nobody forced the telcos at gunpoint to offer Internet service. In fact, the telcos were late to the party. But now that they have squeezed out all the competition that actually DID want to offer DSL service (such as CLECS), the incumbents now cry foul, that it’s “not fair”, that they can’t make enough money on Internet service. Boo hoo.

Those with knowledge of the history of local telephone service have seen this before. They first squeeze the competition out and then declare that they need to raise rates to make money. Except this time, it’s not quite so easy, because they have not squeezed out their only remaining rival for Internet access services: the cable companies. So the poor telcos actually have to offer competitive pricing. Yipes. That hurts. That’s not a Telco’s core competency and they aren’t accustomed to having to.

So of course they turn to what they do know – the legal and political systems. And for the most part, the net luminti have fallen right in their trap, pawns in the telco’s game.

What the telcos and their political allies managed to achieve by shifting this debate to one framed around “net neutrality” is let everyone forget that nobody forced the telcos to go into the Internet service business and nobody is forcing them to stay in it. If it’s bad business, get out. If it’s really that bad, nobody else will want to offer it either. Oh but wait, maybe they know somebody else might actually WANT the business (such as all those companies they squeezed out before to create this monopoly mess we’re in now).

So which is it? Is Internet service a bad business or a money maker? If it’s bad, then why are they fighting so hard to be in the business? If it’s good, why are they fighting so hard to tell everyone how bad it is?

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