Only yesterday the FCC’s chairman spoke up about net neutrality rules, and already the big U.S. 3G broadband providers are beginning to shake their rattles, cry out loud and demand that people listen: Net neutrality is bad, they say.
The networks’ beef isn’t with the net neutrality principles completely–when it comes to wired broadband, they agree(ish) with the FCC’s Genachowski. But it’s a different kettle of fish when it comes to applying those self-same openness guidelines to wireless 3G. AT&T’s SVP of External and Legislative Affairs, Jim Cicconi, noted “We are concerned […] that the FCC appears ready to extend the entire array of Net neutrality requirements to what is perhaps the most competitive consumer market in America: wireless services.”
The chief concern voiced by AT&T is that FCC meddling in such a hot market could ultimately hurt investment and the end-user of AT&T’s (and its competitor’s) 3G services. The wireless industry’s trade association, CTIA, agrees with this argument, pointing at the largely failed 700MHz frequency auction that the government forced to include an open network provision.
Meanwhile Verizon’s busy highlighting that it already is embracing the principles of openness, and stressing that its upcoming 4G network (utilizing some of that 700MHz spectrum) will allow anyone to connect any gadget and access whatever online services they like–right in line with FCC requirements. But when it comes to 3G, Verizon’s suggesting the FCC is asking the impossible: Its VP of regulatory affairs, David Young, suggested that “On a wireline broadband network, you know where your customer is. So you can build capacity to handle the peak demands. But on a wireless network, you have a crowd converge on a site that suddenly has 10 times or 100 times the users competing for the same resources.”
What AT&T and Verizon are saying, in effect, is that their expensive and supposedly futuristic 3G networks just aren’t up to supporting on-demand un-throttled wireless broadband access by the company’s own paid-up userbase. Their complaints about FCC “meddling” are merely a tacit admission of their own failures.
It’s rather obvious, and at heart this is not a new story. Back in I wrote about the ridiculously overt bank-account raping “global” Verizon 3G broadband stick and roaming tarrif. Over at Gizmodo yesterday Adam Frucci had a fabulously barbed piece about AT&T’s much-vaunted 3G microcell system: It’s neat tech, but as Frucci argues it’s basically a clever mechanism for AT&T to get you, the consumer, paying (through the nose) for its own inadequate network coverage. AT&T has also apparently had a hand in Apple’s banning or crippling of several 3G bandwidth-munching apps for the iPhone like Skype and Google Voice.
And on a different and altogether more embarrassing note, Apple promised MMS capabilities for the iPhone with its iPhone 3.0 firmware upgrade–and the day it launched, here in Europe MMSing was instantly live. But AT&T is only now getting around to it, after squirming and complaining it needed to undertake complex network software tweaks for millions of users. Meanwhile, on the fixed line broadband issue, Chris Dannen wrote here only a few months ago that the U.S. was hardly well-provisioned, no matter what the networks say, and he sketched out a number of ways we could “Fix Crappy U.S. Broadband.” Come on U.S.A….you’re the self-proclaimed high.tech nation!
What we’re seeing in AT&T’s and Verizon’s reactions to the FCC is an industry having to face up to the abrupt halting of their gravy train. They’ve scraped money out of their cellphone users wherever possible for years, and not planned for the future enough to bother to install the backbone network infrastructure to support the explosion in wireless broadband that’s happening. The explosion that was so obviously on its way that every man and his cat could’ve predicted it years ago. We can only hope that the companies don’t pass on the network failings as service drop-outs or increased costs to their users–but, admittedly, it’s a forlorn hope.