This year one of my goals is to ingratiate myself with minds and bodies in Los Angeles. That means thinking, eating, drinking, discussing. I'm all about putting together a bigger orbit of fellows. To that end, I've put together a new calling card and purchased some nice shoes. So far so good. Over the past few weeks I've made contact with four outstanding individuals, but let me tell you about the last guy, Codename Gambler. Gambler because he looks like Kenny Rodgers at the top of his game.
Among other things, Gambler knows streaming media. I was unable to disambiguate HLS from H.264 and don't know most codecs from each other, but I could generally parse the stream of info he burst to me yesterday afternoon. I asked him whether or not he could articulate a technical reason for going against Net Neutrality. It was mildy surprising to hear him say what I've said on my less chartiable days about the extent to which the likes of Comcast are justifying 'technology' price increases just for turning up dials they've already built. IE your bandwidth is throttled back to 3. I could turn the knob up to 5 in just a second, but defeating Net Neutrality allows me to charge you to turn it up to 5. (BTW it goes up to 10, I'm just pretending that it doesn't). In other words, the infrastructure is already there and paid for.
Now I'm going to inject something I knew for many years. A long time ago when I drove a VW Beetle, I found myself driving from LA to Georgia to work in Alpharetta at Cingular Wireless. This was right about the time that Deutche Telecom was first putting a footprint into North America as T-Mobile. So I asked the obvious question. How the hell do they just put up a network and start doing business in the US? The answer, cell tower clearinghouse. Huh? What? Since there is a standard for cellphone traffic, (GSM or CDMA or some such) all the electrical engineers with enough brains can build cell towers. Cingular owns some, Verizon owns some, AT&T owns some. If you have a cellphone and you drive away from a Cingular tower, chances are an AT&T or Verizon tower will pick up your signal. In other word, they share cell network infrastructure and have balances of payments settled at a clearinghouse. AT&T knows when your cellphone is talking to a Verizon tower and vice-versa, etc, etc. But none of those carriers own all of the electrical engineers building the towers. Obviously it makes sense to have cheaper capital and build more cell towers vis a vis market share of the clearinghouse balance of payments, but it's in everybody's interest to keep all of the towers running. Now some of this may have changed with all that LTE 4th Gen blather, but I still think there's no monopoly of cell tower networks as they imply in the commercials. Speaking of which, do you keep track of whose network you are calling in order to save money? If you are AT&T, do you try not to call people with Sprint phones? Of course not, that would be rediculous. Carriers *could* charge you more, and I think they used to, but it's stupid now. My point is that infrastructure can be shared and clearinghouses can be kept, and the prospects for charging for cross-traffic is probably not a good long range business model.
Enter municipal broadband. I've got FIOS. Every time I go to Fry's and the Direct TV guys are there trying to sell me dish, their faces fall when I tell them I've got FIOS. They know that fiber rules when it comes to delivering internet traffic to the home. But guess what, a lot of that fiber used to belong to (still belongs to?) Level Three Communications, ex railroad guys who built lines in the railroad right of way. When it came to delivering to the legendary 'last mile', well all that has been done and paid for. And similar to cell towers, the technology is understood by many, not by a monopoly. Yet the monopoly for the consumer exists. My neighborhood, for better or worse, is a FIOS neighborhood. I used to live in a (horrors) Adelphia neighborhood, and before that a Time Warner Cable neighborhood.
Gambler tells me that there are smart people in Los Angeles city government who are proposing regulations that will remove that content monopoly by relicensing the physical monopoly. In other words, let the fiber guys build the right kind of fiber (that dials all the way up to 10) to every house in Los Angeles and then share it through a clearinghouse. If I want Comcast, it goes over the fiber. If I want FIOS, it goes over the same fiber. If I want Roku, it goes over the same fiber. Why? Because Google can play too, and why shouldn't they?
So I am now very clearly for, somewhat tangential and possibly obviating of Net Neutrality, a regime in which cities get rid of captive monopolies by forcing carriers to all talk to the same grid, the Municipal Grid, in the same way they do for cellphone traffic. And I think that just means that Net Neutrality will be a software setting in your cable modem dialed up by the main office. Sounds delicious.