There’s a lot of debate about Net Neutrality and many reasons for and against it. For that information, look elsewhere. There’s a reason there’s a debate, of course. I would like to offer an outside the box alternative. This doesn’t have to be an either / or choice. Let’s change the rules, not the rule makers.
What I’d like to share with the Internet is an alternative plan based around the OSI model.
In my model cities, towns, and counties build out switched networks to the curb. One of the challenges with competition is the physical space of where cables where be buried. If one connection is already there, burying a second becomes very risky.
So, to address this, the municipal entity puts one in place.
In large data centers, they have what they call “meet me” rooms. Meet Me rooms are where the network within the datacenter actually connects to telephone companies, cable companies, and other ISPs.
In my model, each municipal would have a “meet me” location. Town hall. A school. A court house. It doesn’t matter. What matters is that the network congregates to that location.
When the network is build, a shared high speed connection is created for the community and connected to the network, bringing the network online.
Here’s where the rubber meets the road.
The city could offer basic Internet access. Nothing grand, nothing fancy, just generic “dial tone” Internet. Perhaps 5Mbps/384Kbps. It would depend on what the citizens wanted to pay as far as taxes. The network brought to their homes would be capable of much, much more, but for each citizen within the municipality, there would be Internet service as part of their basic city services.
Fiber to the cub is capable of delivering gigabit speeds or higher. The maximum speed of the municipal network would depend on how much the city wishes to invest in it. It is up to the citizens to decide how much they want to invest and how much in taxes they are willing to pay for it.
Why not run the municipal network at full capacity?
Cost. Connecting each home at Gigabit speeds means you need a high speed connection to the Internet and the taxpayers have to pay that. Plus, don’t forget, everyone in the municipality gets this connectivity. From low income to high income. Small business to large.
On the subject of businesses, the city could offer higher speed municipal Internet to businesses, but they should be restricted to a single class. Alternatively, they could be prohibited from offering Internet in commercial areas but would still build the network out.
What about the ISPs?
The municipals, as part of this, would be required to offer flat wholesale rates to Internet providers, regardless of size.
If Comcast wished to offer services in our hypothetical municipality, they would pull a high speed connection to the meet me location. Let’s pretend they installed a 10Gb Internet connection.
Next, Comcast could market their services to the consumers. If a citizen signed up for Comcast’s 50Mb/10Mb Internet, the connection to the citizen’s home would be switched from the municipal Internet connection to Comcast’s at the meet me room.
Comcast would likely need to provide equipment at the consumer’s home, especially if the customer wanted Comcast cable television bundled with their service.
What about smaller ISPs?
That’s the beauty of this model. The wholesale rate is the same regardless of the size of the ISP. If I wanted to start Inzi Internet, I could buy a circuit and space at the meet me location. In my case, let’s say I bought a 45Mb OC3 / T3 connection. However, I wanted to cater to gamers. So I could shape my traffic so XBOX, PS3, and popular online game’s traffic took top priority with my service.
I might even be able to charge as much as Comcast with my boutique offerings.
More about the wholesale
Let’s pretend the municipal switched network is capable of 1Gb to the curb. The whole sale rate would a be a flat rate per Mb of capacity.
Let’s say that rate, hypothetically, is $.50 per MB per customer and a flat $100 a month per Gb connection in the meet me room.
If Inzi Internet wanted to offer 20Mb/20Mb, then the *costs* for Inzi Internet to the city would be $100 for the cross connection at the meet me, plus $10 per month per subscriber also paid to the city. On top of that, Inzi Internet would need to pay for their circuit at the meet me location, but that would go the phone company or Internet provider Inzi Internet chooses.
Better yet, Inzi Internet could just pay for a high speed circuit into a datacenter where multiple high speed Internet connections exist.
Inzi Internet could then offer their gamer centric Internet for $50 a month, make a small profit, and compete with Comcasts of the world.
Oh, and the municipal network takes those payments from Comcast and Inzi Internet to maintain, upgrade, and operate the municipal network.
There could be ISPs that cater to teleworkers, cord cutters, gamers, businesses, and sports enthusiasts.
But we want Net Neutrality
The Municipal Switched Network would be required to treat all data the same. No matter what. Be it dancing kittens or telemedicine.
The elegance of this model is that if the citizens all want to pay high taxes and raise the municipal Internet they can. But they are also paying to build an infrastructure that enables customer choice.
In this model, the ISPs connect the municipality to their network, and the citizens choose their provider.
Why would anyone choose anything more than municipal Internet?
Again, cost. Does the tax base have the will or the means to support ultra high speed Internet to every citizen for the same rate, regardless of how much each citizen pays in taxes? Will it be funded by a sales tax? A property tax?
Lets say the annual tax revenue per citizen, on average, is $100 for this network. Each citizen pays this tax regardless of which ISP they use. If someone signed up for Comcast, they still have to pay the tax for the municipal network. After all, that is the means by which they are connected.
However, with this model the consumer can have multiple choices for Internet and Entertainment. All that is required is specialized equipment at each end.
What about Cable TV?
This network would not have to be the only network. In addition, an analog network could be built in parallel to it that could function much in the same way.
The best analogy is natural gas or electricity lines. They are there, but you buy what travels over them from anyone you want (at least, here in Texas were it is deregulated). In Texas, there are electricity that offer primarily renewable generated electricity. One can pay more, but perhaps feel better about themselves in the process.
This would be much the same.
Why should the ISPs embrace this?
Well, not all would I would think. they like having a local monopoly. However, there’s a carrot for them to. The last mile network is maintained by the municipality in this model. This affords them reduced operating costs.
How about the jobs of the people who work for the ISPs maintaining these networks? They’ll still be need by the municipalities.
One possible compromise could be that favorable rates could be given to established ISPs for a period of time as part of a transfer of infrastructure ownership to the municipality. The ISPs could keep their own networks, of course, and compete side by side. However, I think it would make great business sense to lease a high speed connection from the citizens to deliver Internet services rather than upgrade their own infrastructure.
The idea is to address the physical limitations of the last mile, while opening consumer choice, providing a means for large and small ISPs to compete side by side.
All the while, protecting the integrity of access to data.
All of this would be accomplished by the citizens building a network that functions a layer 2 and below and the ISPs of choice offer services at layer 3 and above.