by Nancy Scola, Fri Feb 16, 2007 at 01:37:41 PM EST
Matt's mentioned Tim Wu's most excellent paper on the American wireless scene twice now, but I don't think this horse is dead yet. Wu paints a nice -- and by "nice," I mean kinda horrifying -- picture of what an Internet missing the fundamental principle of neutrality might look like. Take, for example, the state of innovation in the cellular market. Here in the U.S., wireless carriers rule the roost. They control what phones hook up to their networks. Since equipment developers have to design for particular networks, carriers pretty much control their entry into the market. Carriers lock phones to their networks and cripple on them neat technologies like Bluetooth, wi-fi, and even call timers (so as not to have you compare your records to theirs). Couple that with no real standards for software development, and few people bother building exciting new cell phone apps. To get a snazzy new iPhone you have enter into a contract with AT&T/Cingular, which is roughly analogous to Apple telling you that your new MacBook won't go online unless you switch to Comcast. The way wireless works today, innovation is only tolerated if it benefits the carrier, not the consumer.
Wireline (you know, when phones have wires) is of course pretty different. Yeah, the landline phone companies once argued that it was technically necessary for theirs to be "totally unified" systems. But today we can hook up just about any device to a phone line -- like, say, a modem -- because we were smart enough to enshrine the idea of open networks into law.
at the Agonist, Ian Welsh has more on the American wireless landscape,
written in sort of fairy tale prose. Whatever it takes. In convincing people of the dangers of a carrier-controlled Internet,
I think we could do worse than to get them to reflect on their own personal
experiences as cell phone consumers.