NPR had a story the other day, entitled “Watching TV Online Often Exposes Slow Bandwidth,” by Laura Sydell. In the piece, Sydell reports that watching TV online could be so much better if projects like Google’s proposed 1-gig broadband network in Kansas City took hold throughout the entire broadband marketplace.
To exemplify for her listeners how Internet TV can be so hampered by bandwidth limitations, we hear Sydell at NPR’s headquarters in Washington trying to watch an HD video while downloading an 8-gig program only to be stalled by constant buffering and delays. In contrast to this, we hear another NPR reporter at Google’s Kansas City demo facility simultaneously making quick work, and then some, of the same task without suffering any slowdowns whatsoever.
Imagine that? The demo beats the real world…hmmm.
If only markets could be less, um, market-y, the NPR piece seemingly intones. Why can’t communications providers and TV programmers all get along and have faith that “if they build it, people will come,” sort of like the movie, Field of Dreams?
Sadly, for people like ex-Obama official, Susan Crawford – who within the NPR piece pushes the odd-ball concept that TV programmers and cable providers together are mainly to blame for broadband’s ostensible crisis of innovation – they see the market as an obstacle. A big one.
In their view, Internet transmission should be a public good, subsidized and controlled by taxpayer dollars. Importantly, this means that free market participants should step out of the transmission business (unless you’re Google) and step aside to allow only well-meaning, “correct-thinking” government bureaucrats to decide where that “Field of Dreams” Internet gets placed, and what goes over it.
Sort of like a big version of NPR.
Markets supply / allocate resources where healthy returns on investment can be made. Sure, Google’s 1-gig broadband experiment in Kansas City is nice (certainly nicer if actually comes to fruition). But the market – which is nearly all funded by privately risked investment – has thus far determined ubiquitous, 1-gig bandwidth isn’t worth the money.
For the time being, that is.
Most of America has competitive access to robust broadband service. Consequently, the interdependent Internet ecosystem – which is comprised of transmission, device, application, service and content providers – is vibrant. Broadband speeds and transmission quality grow with the advance of technology, among other factors. As with any dynamic market, the Internet ecosystem will shift, change and evolve. It will improve.
Of course, we might have been further along to the “Field of Dreams” Internet had Net Neutrality rules never been imposed. Those regulations – which were heavily lobbied for by Crawford and Google – bust up marketplace signals, essentially treating transmission providers (only) like they’re public streets, indentured servants to the rest of the Internet ecosystem.
It may be that we all someday need and get 1-gig connectivity. Alternatively, it may be that some even better form of transmission takes hold and surpasses Google’s still-in-demo, Internet TV experience. Who knows? The point here, however, is that the marketplace – where it can be allowed to work – is pretty darned good at efficiently making those determinations, giving consumers what they want and can use.
Sure, it isn’t perfect. But, do we really want our Internet experience to be as innovative as a public street?
Even Susan Crawford can’t want that.