Ma Bell-oney and the new internet

The big US telecoms don’t want to play with the neighborhood kids anymore. They’re basically taking their ball and going home, and asking the US Congress for permission.

This, of course, has caused a major kafuffle among the techgentsia, who are worried that the Internet will balkanize into tiny little 1980s-ish feifdoms … a little piece here, and a toll to cross that bridge, and another little piece there.

Well, granny Smith may not know what TCP/IP is, but she cares about being able to get to eBay and bid on her favorite woollen undies. And if a new-born Ma Bell gets in her way, she’s going to get just a little put out. In fact, she might even look for another way to get her computer onto the web (previously known as the world wide web).

So I’m not too worried about the telecoms. They have lots of upstart challengers.

But it’s interesting to note that just a day or two after this story broke, HP announced that it has done exactly the same thing.

HP’s new videoconferencing service will not run on the internet per se. Rather, it’ll go over a private network. It’s easy to understand why when you see the scope of their system:

To receive the service requires H-P to install a Halo room on the premises at a cost of $550,000. The service, including a dedicated T3 line, costs $18,000 a month. The rooms, designed for just six people, have three screens that allow conferees to appear life-sized. A fourth high-definition screen is used to share documents or products or most anything.

Something that pushes that many bits around needs to have dedicated pipe. High-def screens, life-sized … that’s big bandwidth. Huge bandwidth.

HP didn’t feel like it needed to ask permission to create a new network. Their network is a piece of a dedicated, single-use solution.

But if the telecoms create a new network and expect paying customers to be OK with the fact that certain major pieces of the web “don’t work,” they’re smoking some BC bud. And they’ll lose heavily in the one place that matters to them: the marketplace.

(Just like HP will with an incredibly over-priced solution, btw.)