The broadband barbarians will soon control the gates

And close them shut -- what's the point of developing new technologies if nobody can use them?

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Then came backyard DSL service, wherein small ISPs could order alarm circuits from the local telco and push DSL signals over the pair, resulting in much higher bandwidth and more reliable connections. It was around this time that the big telcos started to see a very easy way to continue to capitalize on their good fortune and eat the lunch of every small ISP in their territory -- so they did. The cable companies got into the act too, and before you knew it, the Wild West days of local ISPs were over, and the telcos grew larger.

Over time, further consolidation occurred and we wound up where we are now, with only a handful of Internet service providers to cover the country, and next to zero competition in most markets. In addition, those very same ISPs raise prices without fear of losing customers and blather on about how their customers don't want faster speeds.

It's a recipe that will turn the technological advancement of the United States into the equivalent of a third-world nation in the coming years, and it's already started. The massive advancement we saw in the first 10 years of our Internet consciousness is being destroyed by the deregulation and lobbying of the past nine.

We only have to look at the reaction of the big ISPs to Google Fiber to see a crystal-clear example of this in action. Where Google has shown up and delivered extremely high-speed, high-quality data and television service for extremely reasonable rates, the incumbent carriers have been forced to step up their game to where it should have been years ago. For example, Time Warner is now offering speeds up to 300Mbps/20Mbps in Austin, Texas -- not coincidentally, where Google Fiber has set up shop.

This level of service is where the backwoods and rural areas of the United States should be right now, and they would be, if there were any real competition in the market. The major metropolitan areas should be at gigabit already. Sadly, there is absolutely no reason for the ISPs in those areas to offer anything close to that; in fact, it's in their best interests to do little to nothing other than continue to collect higher and higher fees. There is no credible threat to their bottom line to spur them to do otherwise. The free market only functions when there is adequate competition.

If we are to believe that the United States is the most technologically advanced nation on the planet, we might want to ensure that our communication system isn't languishing behind countries like Romania. The only way we get there is by ensuring that every market suddenly becomes rife with competition or by quashing obscene moves like the Time Warner/Comcast merger, and whittling down these ISPs to regional providers governed as common carriers.

The argument that doing so will result in even less innovation and reduced services is a farce. Phone companies and electrical service companies are regulated as common carriers, and I don't see common and widespread power and telephone outages across the country. In fact, the last time we saw big problems with electrical delivery, it was at the hands of corrupt corporations like Enron. 

We have a very clear choice as we head into the third decade of our Internet consciousness. Do we continue along the path that guarantees that the United States will become a marginal player in the technological advancements of the next 50 years, and allow a few companies to line their pockets at the pleasure of compromised legislators? Or do we finally decide that the Internet is not merely an information service but a fundamental structure that underpins our country's financial, functional and future stability?

I'd really like to devote more time and mental effort to moving technology forward, and not writing columns like this one. But what's the point of developing new technologies if the barbarians control the gates?

This story, "The broadband barbarians will soon control the gates," 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.

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