Thursday, October 4, 2007

Why telecom-related activist causes are worth paying attention to

A good friend of mine told me about a once-independent Earthlink subsidiary in the Northwest having to release a percentage of their employees. In my humble opinion, this is emblematic of a broader change, that the days of the independent ISP may be numbered. In fact, five years from now, Earthlink and AOL will both be gone, as will most of the independent ISPs not directly associated with Telcos or cable operators.

Anyway, on to the personal impact of Earthlink, since I'm an Earthlink subscriber. I began to wonder what will happen when they are acquired or go under? The ISP alternatives for me are Qwest and Comcast, and then there are all the other ISPs that could travel to my home over the top of Qwest or Comcast.

As it stands at this moment, Qwest isn't an option: their speed is up to 1.5mbps, which is inadequate for my needs. Plus Qwest's partnered ISP is MSN.

So, because Qwest broadband is so slow, we take broadband access from Comcast, and therefore, we *could* use Comcast's ISP service (which we already pay for as part of the broadband subscription, but don't use because we have Earthlink).

The other ISPs include AT&T, Verizon and a bunch of others, but I don't see them as being particularly appealing either.

But this is part of yet a still-larger picture: service providers that offer Triple
Play (TV, voice, broadband access/isp) services. I don't particularly like those choices either, which are Qwest, Comcast and potentially Dish/Echostar.

I suppose we could go to Comcast for Triple Play, since we already take broadband access from them. Plus Comcast offers VoIP and (well, DUH!) TV service.

For reasons above, Qwest is not a triple-play option, plus Qwest's current TV offer is a bundle with a different satellite provider (DirecTV). [ Although there's hope: the Qwest technician that ran phone lines in my house last week said that all fibre-fed DSLAMs in this area will be upgraded to ADSL2+ or VDSL2 (which means only one thing: Video - although Qwest has made no announcements, they are well known to be out with RFPs for IPTV infrastructure and middleware) ]

This leaves Dish Network satellite TV, which currently provides TV in my home, but because they are satellite, they lack phone and data services. There's rumbling that AT&T might buy Echostar (Dish) - which would give AT&T a triple-play, although the broadband part of the equation falls short (it would still be AT&T's ISP and VoIP services over Qwest's lines). AT&T can't offer its U-Verse IPTV service here, since AT&T is not the incumbent Telco.

I never thought I'd be making decisions about my communications services would be so complicated. Being in the industry, my first thought was that "sometimes one can know too much!" But it's more important than that: the average consumer has no idea what all is at play here, and it's not just about getting broadband or Triple Play services in my home!

To me, it's why the whole Net Neutrality issue is so important. AT&T can apparently kick people off their service for disparaging AT&T. Plus, both AT&T and Verizon (and probably Qwest) are believed to be wiretapping American homes on behalf of our
federal government.

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