YOU ARE AT:WirelessParting the waters, pummeling walled gardens

Parting the waters, pummeling walled gardens

History-making is not apt to stop with the election of an African American to the highest office in the land. President-elect Barack Obama and his incoming administration also could break with tradition insofar as the balance of power between telecom network titans and the anarchistic universe of third-party content, device and application vendors.
It’s all about net neutrality, a hot-button policy issue about keeping open high-speed Internet pipes managed by wireless and other broadband service providers. Obama and congressional Democrats wholeheartedly embrace net neutrality to a degree that has yet to fully manifest itself in policy. It’s still early, mind you. Republicans, on the short end of a transformational power shift that has Democrats padding their majorities in Congress and assuming control of the White House, view net neutrality as emblematic of the kind of heavy-handed government regulation that chokes commerce and is inferior to self-correcting market forces.
The mobile-phone industry disdains net neutrality, seeing a combustible issue once limited to the telephone-cable/TV broadband duopoly as having potential repercussions for the wireless space. Kevin Martin, chairman of the GOP-led Federal Communications Commission, was persuaded by Google and others to impose an open-access condition on one-third of the 700 MHz spectrum auctioned earlier this year. Wireless carriers have vowed to open their networks to third-party devices and applications and have taken steps in that direction. Skype unabashedly doubts wireless carriers are really sincere about losing their grip on networks.
“I think for . the telecom industry as a whole probably the thing that scares the industry the most about a Democratic administration is regulating the one real shining star,” stated Dan Hesse, CEO of Sprint Nextel, in a recent speech at the National Press Club. Hesse described net neutrality as Orwellian in that it means something contrary to what the term itself professes. “It’s to regulate the Internet,” he said. “It’s to allow us, as carriers, to charge the end user whatever we want, but it regulates what we could charge or what we could do with content and traffic and what have you to protect the networks.”
It remains to be seen whether Obama and his congressional supporters will enable a nefarious net-neutrality regime – like the one envisioned by Hesse – to materialize. Obama-the-campaigner and Obama-the-president could turn out to be two very different people. Look for steady, gradual movement to the center, with progressive reform on telecom and tech issues winning out over radical re-regulation.


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