WCIT, Neutrality, OTT-Telco & "sustainable" Internet business models

I don’t buy the argument that we should reinvent the Internet because some applications work badly on congested networks (eg VoIP and streamed video). My view is that

  1. Users understand and accept variable quality as the price of the huge choice afforded them by the open Internet. 2.5 billion paying customers can’t be wrong.
  2. Most of the time, on decent network connections, stuff works acceptably well
  3. There’s a lot that can be done with clever technology such as adaptivity, intelligent post-processing to “guess” about dropped packets, multi-routing and so forth, to mitigate the quality losses
  4. As humans, we’re pretty good at making choices. If VoIP doesn’t work temporarily, we can decide to do the call later or send an email instead. Better applications have various forms of fallback mode, either deliberately or accidentally.
  5. Increasingly, we all have multiple access path to the Internet – cellular, various WiFi accesses and so forth. Where we can’t get online with enough quality, it’s often coverage that’s the problem, not capacity anyway.
  6. Anything super-critical can go over separate managed networks rather than the Public Internet, as already happens today

Excellent. Many good points on the topics.

Doc Searls – Will the carriers body-snatch the Net with HTML5?

Background: telcos and cablecos – what we call “carriers,” and the industry calls “operators” – are hounded by what they call “over the top,” or OTT (of their old closed phone and cable TV systems). Everything that makes you, app developers and content producers independent of telcos and cablecos is OTT. ┬áNaaS, as Crossey explains it, is a way for the telcos and cablecos to put the genie of OTT independence back inside the bottle of carrier control.

The blathering about OTT, and its eager adoption as the term of craft to signify understanding, has irked since day one. Because since Day One, every service on the Internet has been (or can be) provided by other than the carrier.

Indeed this structural separation is the foundation of the freedom and flexibility that has caused the innovation for which the Internet is justly famed.

The idea that access to carrier customer information, in the two-sided model advocated for so long by Telco 2.0 (home to “Internet warming” scare monger Martin Geddes), will exclude some by becoming mandatory is a bit of a long bow. Indeed services may differentiate and appeal by not being geo-aware, or interested in all your demographic and social graph information.

That interest is conventionally held to be required for the nirvana of ad-supported services, but Doc Searls has for sometime predicted the demise of the model (or at least its marginalisation).

Too many too large and too clever organisations efficiently deliver their services using the Internet to be tempted by entering a global negotiation with local and national carriers to establish APIs, thus granting them the power Twitter is so casually abusing.

Co-operation at the level required for this strategy is mercifully beyond the narrow short-term self-interest of telcos to co-ordinate. All happy to ITU when the going was good, but competition has changed that happy band of brothers.

Telco 2.0, or at least Dean Bubley, illustrates this over-engineered habit time and time again: http://disruptivewireless.blogspot.co.nz/

In the long term, we’re not going back to X.400, the abstracted Internet market is so many orders of magnitude larger than any “carrier” that working with them (a pig of a job at the best of times) is very unlikely to be worth the grief.

The telecoms industry and a dual-dilemma problem

Thinking about this more today, I’ve realised that my view can be explained quite simply. The telecom industry is (as far as I can tell) the first to face two classical “dilemmas” simultaneously:

  • The Innovator’s Dilemma: The title of Clayton Christensen’s seminal book on disruptive innovation (from which I take a great deal of inspiration, including my company name). It refers to well-managed, profitable companies watching disaster unfold, as they ignore a low-cost / low-profit new technology because it targets only adjacent markets, and would threaten cannibalisation if applied to their own. But it improves over time, gaining strength and scale, and eventually kills them anyway, as it expands from adjacencies to core.
  • The Prisoner’s Dilemma: This is a famous thought-experiment applying “game theory” to collaboration and cooperation. Do two prisoners remain silent & complicit – both receiving short sentences – or does one frame the other, going free while the other languishes in jail? Or, if both try to betray each other, they both get long sentences. (Edit: Martin Geddes has pointed out the different game if you change the apostophe to prisoners’ dilemma)