January 13, 2015 — The number one issue for 2015 is net neutrality (NN). This is gearing up for a super slugfest. The 800 pound gorillas, like AT&T, Verizon, Comcast, Cox, etc. who have been lining the pockets of the Republicans, forever, so they can keep their slice of the golden fleece, golden, are bring out the big guns in this issue. They have already been admonished for throttling. And if the FCC puts them under Title II, they will no longer will they be able to favor sites with a preferential “fast lane” that sites pay premiums for. Hmmm…a level playing field; that is a novel idea.
In favor of NN, are a majority of Democrats, and most consumer advocates and the smaller players like NetFlix and Etsy. Their argument is that net neutrality offered all website players a level playing field, offering the consumer the same value proposition across the board. The Republicans, and the telecoms, on the other hand, claim that it would hinder innovation.
However, it isn’t just about the Dems and the Repubs. There are perceptions at play here. First of all, much of the consumer sees the telecom giants as bad guys. Businesses who are constantly getting dinged for “ripping” off the consumer (hidden charges, data throttling, murky contracts, etc.) so they already have a bit of a black eye, even if they have a legitimate position. Second, there is the issue of big brother again, meddling in something that, for the most part, is working pretty well. And, finally, much of the public really doesn’t care one way of the other, as long as they can stream Mad Men to five different devices, listen to The Who, Live at the Isle of Wight Festival 1970 and play their MMO game, World of Warcraft, simultaneously.
And, there is still another player – Google. In a recent filing with the FCC, they stated that they see a silver lining in being regulated as a telecom company. As a regulated telecom service, Google Fiber would get access to utility poles and other essential infrastructure owned by utilities, just as the telecoms have had since the beginning of time. They would like to see this happen because it would promote competition and spur more investment and deployment of broadband Internet services – and provide a potential backhaul bonanza for small cell deployments, which, currently suffer from lack of ubiquitous, high-bandwidth backhaul services. Pole access is fundamental and if Title II gives Google pole access, then it might really rock the world with broadband access – good for small cells.
In the end, this is really more of a Washington power play. The Republicans, with their new-found power in Washington are just looking for ways to flex their political muscle, and this, along with Obamacare, are highly visible targets. In retrospect, NN is a good thing and the playing field should be level. And it will bode well for the small cell industry.
Ernest Worthman is the editor of agl Small Cell Magazine.