A Public Broadband Option? - InformationWeek

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Mobile // Mobile Applications
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10/29/2009
08:46 PM
Thomas Claburn
Thomas Claburn
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A Public Broadband Option?

Having looked over Google's explanation of its Google Voice call blocking practices to the Federal Communications Commission, it's clear to me that U.S. telecommunications regulations need to be thrown out and re-written from the ground up.

Having looked over Google's explanation of its Google Voice call blocking practices to the Federal Communications Commission, it's clear to me that U.S. telecommunications regulations need to be thrown out and re-written from the ground up.Why does Google block certain Google Voice calls? To prevent price gouging. Some rural carriers were charging Google as much as 39 cents a minute for connecting Google Voice calls.

Google's telecom and media counsel Richard Whitt spends much of the letter arguing that Google Voice is an information service and not a telecommunication service.

Whitt's argument no doubt passes legal muster but it fails the common sense test.

There's not really a practical difference between an information service and a telecommunications service. The distinctions have regulatory meaning but they fade as information services and telecommunication services converge.

When it a phone call not a phone call? When it's a Google Voice call.

With 100-Mbit broadband, Google CEO Eric Schmidt recently said, all the distinctions between different forms of electronic media go away.

If only that future would arrive.

It's absurd that people have to pay separate bills for landline phone service, mobile voice service, mobile data service, cable or satellite TV service, and broadband Internet service. We should pay for commodity bit transport and for services on top of that, if we're not getting those services for free through advertising.

Perhaps it's time for a public broadband option, since the margins in the commodity bit transport business seems to be too low to attract private sector players.

We have a public highway system, so why not a public information superhighway system? The private sector could then add value to the government infrastructure.

Companies like AT&T and Verizon are practically arms of the government anyway. It's hard to imagine the customer service experience under Ma Bell and Uncle Sam would differ noticeably. And all the coyness about tapping phones and data surveillance could be done away with. We'd encrypt or let the NSA have its way with our missives.

While I'm sure that idea is repugnant to free market absolutists, we have socialized medicine for our troops and seniors through the VA and Medicare, and socialized mail delivery through the Post Office, and socialized defense through the military.

Socialized Internet connectivity and a complete reboot of information and telecom regulation might just be what the converged world needs.

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