Bandwidth is a utility.

Telephone used to be analog and application specific. Television used to be analog and application specific.
By application specific, I mean that your phone never used to serve web pages. and you never expected to order pizza over your cable television. Both technologies are now fully digital. Beyond digital, both technologies are now TCP/IP based (use packets, and the protocols that underlie the internet.) Once things are digital, they are no longer application specific. It makes no sense to have a network for a single application (phone is a single application, as is cable television)

Technology is improving at a rapid rate, and in the next few years, the phone companies will be rolling out fibre to the home. They will do that because cable companies have a much higher bandwidth medium (coaxial cable) to work with, and can offer to replace phone service for cheaper on their cables. In contrast, traditional copper cabling cannot include nearly as much signal as coax, so the phone companies have to roll out fibre or risk being driven into oblivion by everyone cancelling their phone service and using only cable (because phone service will be much cheaper there.)

But the fact remains: With Internet technologies, you do not need to have multiple networks connected to your house. Given a choice, why would you have multiple networks running to your house? Not only is there no reason but it will be quite expensive. Over the next twenty or thirty years, places are going to lose networks. Enough people will switch away from the phone company (or cable company, once phone companies start offering cable tv over fibre) in some areas, that it will become very expensive for the phone company to provide service there, gradually overlap of the cable and phone networks will decrease, and eventually we will settle into comfortbale oligopolies, where single companies have the only network that covers large areas.

That future is almost certain to occur in the US, where internet service has been completely deregulated. Not only will you have only a single network provider, but that network provider, without competition in the local area, will be quite expensive. The natural number of physical network providers in any given area is 1. Internet bandwidth is a lot like electricity that way. Sure you can have multiple sets of power lines, but that is going to be hellishly expensive if your clients are not huddled together, hopefully near the point of generation. So now we should look at the concept of cities providing bandwidth, much like most cities provide water, or local authorities provide power (Hydro Quebec, Tennessee valley authority, etc...) That is probably the route that makes the most sense over the long term, the alternative being a bell-style regulated utility.

OK, so basic economics points to losing expensive extra networks. A basic thing that an oligarchy of private networks will want to do is packet preferencing and packet filtering. Today, I run a mail server out of my house. Most people cannot do that because their ISP agreements prevent them from running 'servers.' Anyone using internet phone service is very likely to be running a server, and very likely violating their ISP terms of service. What the ISP's want to do is sell your their own phone service, their own email service, their own web-hosting service. What people do not realize is that you can do all that in your home, for nothing. As long as networks do not do packet preferencing.

Today, it takes some geek knowledge, but there is no cost involved. The major ISP's have already killed competitive email solutons by blocking port 25 (the mail traffic port) and is fighting against providers like Skype, to try to keep their customers from being able to get voice communications from someone else. The only way that this will happen is if the networks are unregulated and permitted to continue to filter, and prioritise according to their corporate interests. Dropping voice traffic at the gateway is in the corporate interest of your cable company. It reduces load on their internet link, and enables better service for the cable company's own clients. But it is deeply wrong. It is as if Westinghouse were your power company and permitted only Westinghouse appliances to be connected to the power. GE would be out, Frigidaire too.

Clearly, what you want is a vendor neutral internet, where you can buy services from whoever you want, and even build your own if you are the DIY type. No private company will want to give you that freedom, unless there is coecion of some kind. Government regulation could do it, but competition from a city or area run non-profit with the public's interest at heart could probably force the for profit corporations to be civilized.

The real question is how can the most people get provisioned with vendor neutral bandwidth for the lowest cost to the consumer and the economy. I very much doubt that that will happen in an unregulated economy because the economics push towards a natural monopoly, and a for-profit monopoly does not drive efficiency.


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