Net neutrality changes everything, wait – nothing

Written by on June 29, 2015 in Opinion with 0 Comments

fingerpainting funThe build up to, and debate about, Net Neutrality was tense. We felt that the Regulator was about to make a big messy blunder. We still feel that the Regulator is making a big messy blunder (which is a pity because we used to rather admire him). But it is transpiring that Net Neutrality is more about noise and posturing than about regulations with teeth.

It will allow the FCC to fine companies, pretty much at will, because every operator could be accused of breaking the rules somehow, in some way. It would be churlish to suggest that these fines provide income that helps justify the Regulator’s existence. The whole of the Net Neutrality issue is about a grey area the size of the telecoms market. Technically, operators must stop practices such as capping or  zero rating certain sites. But they won’t. Nor will the Regulator bring up the issue, unless, for some reason, he believes he absolutely has to.

What it will be used for is to justify mergers and acquisitions. Charter Communications is trying to buy Time Warner Cable (after Comcast completely failed to do so) and part of its strategy is to hire a net neutrality advocate who was absolutely against cable companies using and abusing networks. A major part of the ‘pitch’ to the Regulator is about adhering to Net Neutrality rules and going even further and saying ‘all customers will be treated equal’ (therein lies the clue) – apart from those who will be treated more equally.

As the writer of this excellent irreverent industry organ says, saying you will adhere to the rules and actually adhering to the rules are worlds apart. Apparently if you say you will be a crusader for Net Neutrality your ‘merger’ gets nodded through. And the next day you can launch caps and zero rated services, as fast as you like.

It is unpleasant to poke fun at Regulators, but it is too easy. They seem to be toothless civil servants whose business models reflects that of ‘Parking Attendants’ in British cities. The more money you bring in, the more you justify your existence. As one pundit put it last week, ‘why don’t they all turn telecoms operators into utilities and be done with it.’ Indeed, that discussion is now fully on the table. An opinion piece in the UK’s Daily Telegraph asks whether mobile device customers would prefer to pay Apple or Google for their mobile service, rather than EE or Vodafone. It is an interesting piece, wondering aloud whether the clout of the two tech giants will be enough to force themselves between the customer and the network provider. With the arrival of a universal SIM and early experiments with an MVNO model from Google, it just may be that our thesis that Apple will end up with the cool devices, but Google will end up with the universal operating system is correct. Mobile operators fear losing the customer relationship more than anything, but they are busy doing so anyway.

With the Regulator still tying the hands of the operator, and tech companies not having that regulatory anchor of conformity to worry about, operators should think about their wholesale business – and not just as Plan B.

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About the Author

About the Author: Alex was Founder and CEO of the Global Billing Association (GBA), a trade body focused on the communications sector. He is a sought after speaker and chairman at leading industry conferences, and is widely published in communications magazines around the world. Until it closed, he was Contributing Editor, OSS/BSS for Connected Planet. He is publisher of DisruptiveViews and previously BillingViews. .

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