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[ NNSquad ] Re: "Once Upon a Time" - Understanding Bandwidth Caps

[ Since I framed my "Once Upon a Time" Bandwidth Caps posting in terms of a dark folk tale, it seems only fair that Brett offers a much more fantastical piece in reply. With all the "competition" that Brett keeps talking about, why is it, I wonder, that just a few giant ISPs control the overwhelming bulk of U.S. Internet users, and all the thousands of little guys split the relatively small remainder -- like trying to prod Godzilla in the toe with tiny little blunt toothpicks.

         -- Lauren Weinstein
            NNSquad Moderator ]


Please allow me, for the list, to point out some flaws in your analogy/allegory.

Firstly, ISPs are not monopolies. Satellite Internet is available in virtually all of the continental US, and EV-DO/3G is available in at least 99% of it. WISPs cover more than a million square miles of the US, including every major metropolitan area. (See


for a map which shows the coverage of about 1/3 of the nation's WISPs.) And more than 95% of the nation's population is also served by both a cable company and a telephone company.

My personal mission, as an ISP, is to bring faster speeds and more cost-effective service to broadband users (again, satellite and EV-DO are ubiquitous, so vanishingly few if any locations can credibly claim to be unserved). Due to competition and consumer expectations (few consumers will pay more than $40 per month for broadband), no one is "making a killing" in this business. However, it's reasonable to expect to make a fair, living wage from this knuckle-busting, brain-twisting effort (which requires one to be an athletic geek -- climbing roofs, erecting towers, building cabinets full of microwave and networking equipment, probing the unlicensed radio spectrum for the least noisy frequencies, and hacking on BSD UNIX all in a single day).

Secondly, ISPs are not analogous to an evil corporation which comes in out of the blue and builds a "toll bridge to nowhere." That makes no economic sense, just as the much protested "bridge to nowhere" in Alaska made no economic sense. Nor can they get away with onerous business practices due to ubiquitous competition.

Thirdly, ISPs have no interest in spying on their customers. In fact, privacy is a selling point -- one of the reasons why our ISP operates Web proxies and NAT routers to make it difficult for anyone on the Internet to intercept an individual user's traffic. If they do, users will leave for competitors. Yes, we do need to manage traffic due to high backbone bandwidth costs, but we do so in reasonable, open, and honest ways.

In short, it is not only fallacious but harmful to conjure up a crisis where none exists. Regulation of ISPs would harm consumers by squelching competition and innovation, raising prices, and degrading quality of service.

I might add that the mere threat of regulation has already harmed our own small, rural ISP. After the Comcast decision, our investors became unwilling to invest more money in our business, since they did not wish to invest in a heavy regulated industry where innovation would be limited and conformance to government rules would introduce disproportionately high overhead for small and competitive providers. As a result, several of our investors asked immediately to be bought out. The money to do so ate into the stream of money we were reinvesting in building out infrastructure, hobbling our efforts to build out to new areas. We've had to tell potential customers whom we expected to serve by now that it will be another year before it will be possible ot reach them.

The inclusion of stealth "network neutrality" regulation in the ARRA further discouraged them, because it meant that if we accepted any of the money we would be at a disadvantage relative to other companies which had enough capital not to need it. This killed all further third party investment in our company.

Bottom line: I am now in the process of buying out all of our remaining investors. To do this, I must stop drawing a salary from the business (taking a personal financial hit in the process and working 7 days a week for no pay) and will cut back on expansion -- exactly the opposite of the intent of the ARRA. The only light at the end of the tunnel is that, in the end, I will be less susceptible to the whims of those who -- whether because they are misguided or because they seek personal gain (the Washington lawyers and lobbyists who are crusading for "network neutrality" clearly fall into the latter category), are harming this country's thousands of honest, hard working independent ISPs as well as the customers they serve and wish to serve.

--Brett Glass