In an ideal situation, we'd have the wherewithal to call in our chips and force the big ISPs to compete with anyone who wanted to set up shop in a territory. The cables they've laid would become available for common use, and any organization that wanted access to the customers served by the last mile would have that access. With sufficient gear at neutral POPs, an ISP would be defined by the billing and customer service, not the cables already in the ground. A standard fee would be charged for the local loop maintenance that would be under the purview of one of the ISPs or a neutral company.
This concept not only makes sense, it's the reality behind Internet service in much of the rest of the world. It's not uncommon for customers in small cities in the Netherlands to have their choice of a dozen ISPs, all through the same cable run into the house. This directly equates to faster speeds, lower prices, and better service -- the hallmarks of the free market that we hear so much about in the United States.
Power and telephone companies work similarly in the United States already. We may generally call them telephone poles, but from region to region, the poles that support our power and telephone lines are shared between the local telco and power companies. In some places the power companies own and maintain the poles, renting space to the telcos; in other areas, the opposite is true. The point is that there can realistically be only one set of poles stretching through our neighborhoods, so some kind of cooperative use must be coordinated.
The same holds true for consumer broadband Internet. There can and should be only one pipe run into our homes, and we should be free to choose the company we pay for that access.
Look around at your home now. You don't have four different water mains coming in with only one hooked up. You don't have five different power lines waiting on the pole. You don't have three different telephone networks run down your street. You have one of each. In some places you may have a selection of power companies, but no matter which you choose, power is delivered via the same lines. You may even pick among telephone companies, but again, the service is delivered through the same physical telephone lines.
There is no reason for requiring that competing broadband Internet access providers in a market deploy their own last-mile networks. Heck, as taxpayers, we've already subsidized the Internet build-out of the United States to a massive degree. We've already paid for these networks.
Perhaps that should be the deal struck with Comcast and Time Warner Cable. Sure, go ahead and create the largest cable company in the world -- but only if you become a common carrier and allow competition throughout your network. You can play, but you must allow competitors access to your last-mile infrastructure for fixed prices, and they can compete with you fair and square. If Comcast and Time Warner squawk and say other companies don't have to do the same, perhaps we do exactly that. Fair is fair, after all.
If we're all about competition and free markets, let's use this opportunity to actually, finally, create a free market in consumer broadband.
This story, "The simple, sensible -- and impossible -- fix for the Internet in the USA," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Read more of Paul Venezia's The Deep End blog at InfoWorld.com. For the latest business technology news, follow InfoWorld.com on Twitter.