Can Mesh WiFi Solve The Net Neutrality Issue?

from the not-likely dept

We've pointed to two separate, but equally insightful, pieces on the real issues concerning network neutrality (which is, basically, that network neutrality isn't the issue -- a lack of competition is). The first piece was by Tom Evslin and highlighted why you can't trust either the telcos or the regulators to do things right. Then, yesterday, there was the piece by Andy Kessler, suggesting we go after the telco-owned networks to force the telcos to generate some real competition. Evslin has now come back and written another long post about the situation, in part responding to Kessler's piece while also filling it in with some ideas from an event he attended. He comes up with a two part solution to the competition issue and net neutrality. First, instead of talking about net neutrality, he suggests focusing the debate on America's Antiterrorist Network. The idea being that, if we actually had better, faster, more reliable broadband networks we'd actually be able to do a much better job protecting the country (economic boosts would just be a side benefit). Of course, in some ways this seems on the same level of propaganda as the two main players in the debate over net neutrality keep rolling out.

His second suggestion is perhaps more problematic. He's betting on mesh WiFi as the answer. In fact, some of the telco supporters (the same folks who used to bash muni-WiFi) now point to such mesh WiFi efforts as proof that there is real competition already in the broadband market. If only it were so. As some of us have been pointing out for years, WiFi technology really is not designed for this sort of usage -- and early results have supported this position. Story after story after story highlight how wide-area WiFi is a lot more complicated than many in the industry (and the press) would have you believe. However, even if these networks worked flawlessly up to expectations, it still wouldn't be an answer to the net neutrality issue -- because even a perfect WiFi network can't handle the same level of usage and doesn't come close to providing the bandwidth of a fiber network. We can hope that other wireless technologies will be the solution -- but so far none of the upcoming technologies have been shown to be even remotely effective in competing with a fiber line. Cellular networks are cutting off users who use over 10 gigs a month of bandwidth, claiming it degrades network performance. If it can't handle that much, it's not a real competitor to DSL, let alone fiber. WiMax still has a long way to go before it shows it's a viable technology at the same scale -- and even then there are spectrum allocation issues that need to be dealt with. Meanwhile, Tom Evslin, himself, explains why satellite also doesn't represent real competition in the space. We can still hope that future generations of these technologies will be much more competitive -- but we're talking many, many years (and even then, it will still depend on spectrum allocation issues). So, using anti-terrorism as a peg for fighting for net neutrality may be useful in stirring up some debate -- but betting on mesh WiFi seems like a losing bet.

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  1. identicon
    Tom Evslin, 22 Jun 2006 @ 3:21pm

    Mesh WiFi correction

    should have said that distributed storage makes MESHED networks more practical.

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