Thinking Tech

True telecomm reform is not-yet dead

Posting in Cities

This fight will not be quick, or easy. It will take commitment, and a willingness by the whole Obama Administration to push back against Astroturf, something they haven't shown themselves capable of to this point.

There are, or were, two Andy Kesslers.

One, a famous skateboarder, died 10 days ago. He will be missed.

The other, a former venture capitalist who now writes books on finance, wants to save America's Internet from a near-death experience through a program of reform he detailed today at The Wall Street Journal.

(To the right is the not-yet dead Kessler, from his Web site.)

His program is antitrust, but it starts with an investigation into the cellular network the FCC launched this month, after Apple rejected an iPhone app called Google Voice. Reports are this was done on the request of AT&T.

Google Voice is cool. You forward all your calls to a number maintained by Google and you can take them anywhere -- office, home, mobile, even overseas. There are all sorts of neat telephony features -- screen calls, listen in on them, conference call, read transcripts of voice mails. Here, take a look.

Google plans to re-tool Google Voice as a Web app, and you can expect it to be offered wherever Android phones are sold. Kessler's point is that AT&T and Apple both acted like monopolists in this case, and their decision should be overturned.

But not-yet dead Kessler also sees this as an opportunity to open up the whole telecommunications space to competition. His ideas are identical to those I've spouted here and elsewhere:

  • End phone exclusivity. Any approved device should work on any network, and any software that runs on the phone should also be assumed legitimate.
  • Treat spectrum as an ocean. Stop selling the airwaves and regulate based on devices, as with WiFi. The result will be a lot more competition and more efficient use of the resource.
  • Open the wires to competition. Kessler focuses on exclusive deals between cities and cable companies, but I am old enough to remember when phone lines were opened to competition in 1996 and, while it lasted, it was a good thing.
  • Get in line with Moore's Law. The speed with which data can move, with or without wires, has been technically doubling every few years throughout the decade. Regulation should align with what's possible, not with what it is in the financial interests of incumbents.

What Visicalc co-founder Bob Frankston calls the Regulatorium will fight this every step of the way.

Monopolists will fight decisions that go against them in court. They will fight to overturn policies they don't like in the states, where they dominate. Any law that is passed, they will try to hold up its enforcement while they fight to find a friendly judge.

The monopolists will claim pro-bit regulation is a taking of their property. They will claim competition exists where it does not. They will blame customers, regulators and "big government" at every turn for what is, in fact, a lack of competition enforced by laws they helped create.

So this fight will not be quick, or easy. It will take commitment, and a willingness by the whole Obama Administration to push back against Astroturf, something they haven't shown themselves capable of to this point.

Is not-yet dead Andy Kessler just tilting at windmills? Is competition just my Dulcinea? We report, you decide.

Or deride if that is your choice.

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Dana Blankenhorn

Contributing Editor

Contributing Editor Dana Blankenhorn has written for the Chicago Tribune, Advertising Age's "NetMarketing" supplement and founded the Interactive Age Daily for CMP Media. He holds degrees from Rice and Northwestern universities. He is based in Atlanta. Follow him on Twitter. Disclosure