One of the greatest fights over the past few years has been over net neutrality, the fight over whether it’s okay for broadband providers to charge content providers extra for the fastest lanes on their networks. I’ll not espouse too much about the issue itself – just check Wikipedia for a primer. The question I’m pondering is this: in the event of a non-neutral internet, who stands to win in the long run?
Current broadband providers (Time Warner, Rogers, AT&T, etc.) believe that they can open a revenue stream by effectively charging content providers for access to the fastest pipes – basically, squeezing extra of money out of planned network upgrades by offering the fastest lane exclusively to the websites that will pay for it. This strategy assumes a few things, most notably that there is little interest in new parties entering the market. What if there were someone entering the market that didn’t rely solely on selling broadband as it’s business model?
There is a notable content provider who is beginning to experiment with broadband providership – Google. The Google of today provides boatloads of services that consume massive amounts of bandwidth. Google has the most to lose with a non-neutral internet – that is, unless they can tip the scales in their favor. Google could enter the broadband market very simply – have themselves be their their own best customer. Under a non-neutral internet, Google would have an incentive to provide cheap, high speed networks across the US (and, even more so in the developing world). On top of offering competitive broadband, they could offer the fastest access to Gmail and YouTube, just to name a few. By owning the network that they distribute their content over, Google would be less beholden to ransoming broadband providers, and significantly undermine them at the same time through competition.
What would a current broadband provider be able to do to compete against that? They would have to offer some other type of content (on an aging network, probably) – that would be cost prohibitive, amongst other things. The real inequity in the broadband market is that there is a lack of competition, which has significantly contributed to the idea that net neutrality is even remotely a possibility. However, a non-neutral internet could very well backfire on those that want it most. Share your thoughts!