American Wireless

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.

Over 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.

Tags: net neutrality, Tim Wu, wireless (all tags)



Re: American Wireless

A lot of credit has to go to bodies like the IETF for ensuring that our net is open and free to innovation.  A lot of hard work and cooperation by companies, academics and the government goes on that makes everything work together.  The same cannot be said for our mobile phone networks.  

This piece by Wu has jump started an important conversation and hopefully we can work to educate consumers on the the limitations of our mobile network like we did with net neutrality.

by juls 2007-02-16 02:27PM | 0 recs
Re: American Wireless

Tim Wu's paper is great and important. So is one in the works by Susan Crawford, Professor, Cardoza School of Law.  I've seen a draft, and hope to see it published soon.  Below are a few excerpts from the draft I've seen. I hope Susan doesn't mind me posting them here.

I think Susan's paper is important in large part because it provides a new and accurate framework for Internet-centric economic analysis of communication policy issues.  That framework can replace the traditional economic perspective that too often is used (improperly, but with lots of impressive-looking equations) to justify vertically integrated duopoly Internet access markets and an obsession with spectrum auctions.

Susan adopts a "growth economics" perspective that focuses on the Internet's unprecedented ability to provide a highly efficient mechanism for generating, evaluating, expanding, synthesizing, proliferating and applying new ideas.  

[I]n recent years, traditional economics has had to open its doors to work that rigorously examines the sources of increased productivity and focuses on the centrality of new ideas to economic growth.  This research has transformed economics from a dismal science, preoccupied with the scarcity of  land, labor, and capital...into a field that spends much of its time focusing on abundance, increasing returns, and the power of new ideas...


The internet provides a particularly fertile environment for the development of these  diverse new thoughts that will drive growth.  It supports the development of groups and other forms of online communication that are potentially highly responsive to the feedback of human beings and highly likely (given the enormous scale and connectivity of the internet) to trigger exponential development of unpredictably diverse new ideas...

The key organizing principle for communications law must be to support the emergence of diverse new ideas online because that is where economic growth for society as a whole will come from.  This form of diversity support is not the same as the kind of quota-driven artificial "diversity" that has been used to force broadcast content regulation to reflect minority viewpoints.  Rather, this kind of online diversity stems from allowing the end-to-end, content-neutral, layer-independent functions of the internet to flourish and allowing groups and human attention to pick and choose from among the bad ideas presented online, enabling good ideas to persist and replicate...


Prioritization will make a difference because network providers will cease to be commodity transport-providers and will instead become gatekeepers, pickers-of-winners, and controllers-of-experiences on a massive scale.  The diversity of online experiences, and thus the range of freedom of human connection, human relationships, and the diverse generation of new ideas will diminish...


Neutrality of symmetric high speed access is important for a host of reasons:  it will enable diverse new applications to emerge that are not controlled by network providers; it will cause new forms of interaction to grow, even apart from the introduction of applications; and it will enable diversity in various real-time communications that otherwise will be controlled and monetized by the network providers.  All of this diversity has great potential to be positively associated with economic growth.

by mitchipd 2007-02-16 07:39PM | 0 recs
Re: American Wireless

Just a brief note: your link to my Agonist post actually goes to Tim's paper.  The Agonist post can be found here.

The comparison I like most (which is not in my article) is that of the 19th century railways, before the automobile took off.

If you wanted your crops taken to market by them, you had to pay whatever they asked.  And they set their rates at just enough to not quite bankrupt the average farmer.

By controlling the pipes, they got most of the value.

The wireless world needs to be forced open, so that anyone can play as long as they meet basic standards so they don't damage the network and pay the cost of their freight, but not much more.

by Ian Welsh 2007-02-16 08:31PM | 0 recs
Re: American Wireless

Sorry, Ian. Fixed.

by Nancy Scola 2007-02-17 03:48AM | 0 recs
Re: American Wireless

I think one area that will be interesting will be Dashboard OS systems in autos that will become commonplace withe the 2009 model year when Ford includes Microsoft's Sync.Auto makers will presumably want to control the pipes for the systems they include in cars but other computer manufacturers could presumably offer their own versions as a replacement version and for older auto's. I think that will become a huge area of new wireless users in the next 2 to 5 years.

by robliberal 2007-02-17 04:55AM | 0 recs


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