Friday, October 17, 2014

We need an "AppleSim" for Wired Internet

Our work has long argued that competition is the key to an Open Internet, not Network Neutrality regulations. The introduction of AppleSim by Apple on their iPads is a very interesting and important development in that regard. As Apple says in their marketing literature:

So whenever you need it, you can choose the plan that works best for you—with no long-term commitments
Apple's market power (ironically) has ensured that they got 3 of the 4 top wireless carriers in the US to sign on as partners. If you are not happy with the service of a provider, you can easily switch.

Now imagine if a similar situation existed for wired Internet access for consumers. Everyone had the equivalent of an "AppleSim" at home. Say in the form of a router, that can easily connect to different wired Internet providers with the click of a button on a web page. You are not happy with Netflix speed by your provider FIOS? Fine - you switch to Comcast. Your ISP blocks Skype video calls? Fine - switch to an ISP that doesn't and is eager to get your business. It would mean the end of peering disputes like the one we have seen in the past that are a result of the market power of last mile monopolies. ISPs would compete with each other to get your business based on the services they offer and the quality of their connection. Right now, the ISPs seem to be competing with each other in exploiting their last mile monopolies to extract revenue from content providers.

Laying down the infrastructure to make this vision of an "AppleSim" for wired access is something complex and involved and for another day. However the equivalent of a company like Apple with the "market power" to flex their muscle and get ISPs to fall in line are municipalities. Municipal Internet is one way to ensure that there is enough competition at the last mile for consumers. Another closely related approach is what Stockholm has done with stokab, they have created a shared last mile infrastructure that different providers can lease and get to customers. We need to get a similar concept going in the US, on a large scale. That would ensure an Open Internet, not difficult to define and impossible to regulate ideals like "Network Neutrality".

Update:

AT&T has announced that when customers activate their AppleSim using the AT&T network they will lock the SIM. There goes easy switching to different providers. A retrograde step by AT&T and Apple should push back.