In a Forbes piece yesterday, Hal Singer took the role of transit backbones in the world’s internet infrastructure and reduced it all the way down to the status of ‘middlemen’. And of course, middlemen are undeserving of protection from the FCC when it comes to ensuring a healthy marketplace since they don’t actually do much of anything anyway, right? Be careful what you wish for.
In reality, the networks he refers to as middlemen all have their own last mile too to the enterprise and data center. It’s just not the consumer last mile that requires a reasonable rate of return for a healthy marketplace. But on their global IP backbones they carry much of the world’s internet traffic, and they do it on infrastructure that 15 years after the bubble still gets taken for granted. The last mile to the consumer is definitely difficult to scale, but we should remember that it’s only one mile out of hundreds or thousands that most bits need to travel.
There’s a reason that the likes of Comcast, Verizon, and AT&T are these days minor players (if that) in the world of internet transit. They don’t like it and don’t invest in it because it’s a thankless business, one that there isn’t much if any margin to squeeze out of. It’s not transit operators that are milking the available dollars in the sector for massive profits while complaining about their business model’s viability. Squeeze those transit backbones that remain too hard and you will, in fact, risk breaking the internet.
I’m not arguing for regulation at the moment (and in fact just some transparency would do), just a bit of mutual respect. Building the infrastructure of the internet is not a zero sum game, it never has been. Let’s not let this argument devolve too far.
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