If I have to listen to one more argument about network neutrality or equal access, I’m going to start another binge-eating session at a local hawker food court. The arguments for making network operators compete to dig trenches, pull cables and build towers are so tired that they don’t even make sense to the people spouting them anymore. There is no competition for the access network, operators build network infrastructure where it is profitable and demand is high. Likewise they don’t build it where it might benefit competitors. That’s not equal access or network neutrality. But if access is something that every citizen has a right to, then build it and get it over with. The question is not about competition, but whether or not communications is deemed critical infrastructure? If the answer is yes, which it is in many nations around the globe, then nationalize the network. Call it a common carrier, call it a Network Company (Singapore NetConnect), call it a legalized monopoly – but get it over with.
South Korea ranks at the top of global broadband availability, quality and affordability surveys. The emphasis there is on the availability of and competition to provide affordable services, not digging trenches and pulling fiber. In the US a DSL line costs roughly $30 per month for 1.5M download speed. In South Korea you can’t even buy a line that slow. For roughly the same cost you get 4M download. There are a lot of service providers in Korea but network providers are few and far between. Network providers are highly regulated and subject to government pricing controls.
“But Singapore and South Korea are smaller and more densely populated than the US or Canada”….boo hoo….You’re telling me that we shouldn’t compete with these countries in a global marketplace because we’re bigger?!? In 1918 (yes, the dawn of time) the US decided that its security and competitiveness would rely on the universal availability of phone service to every citizen and that one firm could more efficiently serve the public than two or more. Surcharges in densely populated areas enabled construction in rural areas and the result was the premier public network in the world.
Breaking up the AT&T behemoth in 1980s was about services – initially long distance, but ultimately data. The problem was that service was synonymous with a connection and that’s just not true anymore. The need for competition around services is more urgent that ever, but competition is actually being stifled by the network operators. Establishing a common carrier or several of them split up by geography to manage existing infrastructure, build where necessary and connect everybody with fiber and LTE will work if the network operators are properly regulated and compensated. The alternative is that the largest network operators – AT&T, Verizon, Cox, Comcast, etc. – will ultimately structurally separate their network operations anyway. However, that is still billions of dollars spent on redundant infrastructure that could be better spent elsewhere. So if a common carrier is where we’re headed – what are we waiting for? Let’s nationalized core infrastructure!
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