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“The Broadband Revolution”

The International Telecommunications Union recently issued a press release announcing with joy the release of “the first set of global standards for Internet Protocol TV (IPTV).” A key sentence:

A combination of voice, Internet and video services over a single broadband link and from a single provider is foreseen as the ultimate goal of the broadband revolution.

Those of you who lived through ‘What Is Broadband Good For?’ with me last summer (first post here) know that the word “broadband” is a pet bugaboo of mine. It’s a word that answers a lot of policy questions in a particular way. It connotes (and denotes) a speeded, managed “service” that happens to use the Internet Protocol but is ultimately completely within the discretionary control of the network provider. So when the ITU talks about “the broadband revolution,” they mean (I think) the rise of these speeded, managed “services” provided by telephone companies. And the stated goal—made express in this press release—is to combine “services” over single broadband links and “from” a single provider. Revolutionary! Remarkably similar to cable television with a cellphone overlay.

I’m not going to say “I told you so,” but this is why the AT&T/BellSouth merger conditions a year ago were not unmixed great news. I said at the time (so I guess I am saying I told you so) that AT&T’s promise as part of that merger to keep its “wireline broadband Internet access service” neutral didn’t actually cover its planned IPTV service, which it calls its “AT&T Yahoo! High Speed Internet U-verse Enabled” service. That won’t be neutral—ever—unless things change rather dramatically in this country. I think consumers will be offered “internet” as *part* of their subscription to IPTV, IPTV will definitely affect “bandwidth management,” and “internet” won’t be what we thought it was.

By Susan Crawford, Professor, Cardozo Law School in New York City

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