Looking for the next Net business

The Internet most of us experience is not the World of Ends suggested by the end-to-end system design concepts around which the Net was originally architected and built.

Instead we have something that is faster-than-dialup, and faster-than-it-used-to-be; but is not The Net. Instead it is the part of the Net that's left in a pipe that's optimized for television, for one-way few-to-many "content delivery" and for locking users into client roles, while servers labor somewhere else.

I just had FTTH (fiber to the home) installed. And, while it's way cool in some ways, it's also uncool in the way it prevents far more business than it generates for itself. It would be great if the carriers made it easy for businesses to grow on the Net, and then suppoted those businesses with services that helped those businesses thrive and grow. But the carriers would rather serve "content" to mass quantities of "consumers" while chaging prohibitive prices for "business-class" services. Hey, it's a mass media mentality, and they have every right to it.


With the rise in network-intensive gaming, of bittorrent traffic, of the need to share big files (e.g. photos and videos), heavy users of the Net will inevitably chafe loudly at legacy asymmetries in the Net subset provided by carriers, at least here in the U.S.

So some of us (mostly on email list backchannels) have been thinking about how we need to rejigger this thing somehow. Either we work with the carriers, or we work around them.

I favor the latter, mostly because the flywheels in carrier methods and mentalities are too large and biassed to spin forever right where they are. They'll move eventually; but it will take competition to do it. (Let's leave "net neutrality" and other legislative options out of this.) That's what I'm suggesting here.

Among the workarounds I've long fantasized about is what some of us call "fenceline" build-out, from house to house and apartment to apartment, finding their way to aggregated buying power sufficient to pay for connections along poles to backbones, where the cost of connectivity could be split enough ways to become affordable to everybody.

I don't think that will happen without some business selling the service that does the connecting and the support after the connecting is done. That business would provide pure Net connectivity, rather than the customary crippled sort (e.g. port 80 and 25 blockages) we get from the carriers. it would provide that connectivity over cabling (preferably fiber), wireless (something more sturdy than wi-fi) or both. Let's call that business a 'netco' — something that works as an alternative to the telco and the cableco.

To succeed the netco (or the netco industry and its companions) would need to characterize what they provide as pure internet, and what the cablecos and telcos provide as a crippled sort. You know how the anti-abortion people characterized their cause as "right to life"? Changed the whole game. (Not saying that move was right or wrong, just that it was effective. It was galvanaizing.)

Anyway, I'm thinking out loud here about this because the Linux movement grew to a large degree around Web server deployment. As the Net grew, Linux grew. And vice versa. In fact, the Net and Linux grew to the point where, frankly, we won.

That leaves us at a long Now What? moment. Too long, in fact. Linux search queries are down. Apache market share is falling. We need a fresh issue to drive the Linux conversation into a new old cause: enabling true freedom for connected users. Is this that cause?

Here are some questions...

1) Can we see a new business — a netco — be built to work around carriers that insist on providing only crippled Internet? (How? When? By whom?)

2) What would be some clever characterizations of pure uncrippled Internet?

3) Who would be on this new business's side at the backbone level? Surely not the telcos and cablecos, but how about Level 3 and NLR? How about Google?

There are models for such a company, by the way. One is Indienet.dk in Denmark, which I wrote about in the January 2007 issue of Linux Journal. Denmark is different, yes; but it's good to know a model exists.

Meanwhile, think about what will happen when ordinary customers — those consumers who are now also producers — get fed up with assymetry and Net crippling here in North America. It will happen, and when it does there will be a lot of business in filling demand for uncrippled connectivity.

Or so it seems to me. How about you?

Suggested reading: Everything by Bob Frankston.


Doc Searls is the Editor in Chief of Linux Journal


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Internet business

howard gut's picture

I believe Linux Distribution will be the next dot net business. Open source project will be the future.

Great article

Bnsc's picture

Your questions get one thinking. Things inevitably change and as history proves itself there is adaptability, so the only solution is work around it as you go. Tech


Anonymous's picture

thats great thanks for all

One of the answers to "Now

demiurg's picture

One of the answers to "Now What?" question, although it is a bit off-topic is embedded Linux. It would be a huge understatement to say that it gained momentum - it took the embedded market in a blitzkrieg.
Alexander (Sasha) Sirotkin
Metalink Broadband Ltd.

My blogs:

Alexander (Sasha) Sirotkin
Metalink Broadband

My blogs:

The key: home users serving bits

Terrell Prude' Jr.'s picture

The reason that the home broadband providers can get away with hobbling residential pipes like that is that most people don't run servers out of their homes. By contrast, I host my own email and Web server, simply because 1.) it's fun and I like doing it, and 2.) it helps keep me technically sharp. I'm sure I'm not along among LJ readers; we tend to like fun stuff like that.

But we're the exceptions. Most home users wouldn't dream of grabbing an older box, making an Ubuntu Linux Web/email server out of it, and protecting it with an OpenBSD spamtrapper/firewall. They're still in "client mode," surfing the Web, maybe a little P2P music sharing, and so on. But I notice the difference because I actually host email for a few people. For me, upload speed and not blocking TCP/UDP ports or IP protocols is a Big Deal, since my servers won't work if they do.

As long as that remains true--end users don't run servers--home broadband accounts will continue to get artificially limited in this way. Verizon doesn't even *offer* a pure pipe with even *one* static IP address with their new FiOS! A friend of mine just got rid of his FiOS connection and went with Cox for exactly this reason.


Linux queries down

Michael R. Bernstein's picture

Linux queries may be down, but so are queries for Microsoft. Windows (though still large) is slowly dropping too, although 'Vista' is trending up.

You know what else is up? Ubuntu.

Linux is still hot

Ryan Gpt Forum's picture

Queries may be down but discussions are up. Just a matter of time and things will be hot again

A lot of people already have their favorite Linux sites

Terrell Prude' Jr.'s picture

Remember that a lot of us already have our favorite Linux sites, so we just go there. For example, The Linux Documentation Project, or the Ubuntu Forums, etc. A lot of us don't really need to search on "Linux" quite as much anymore as we used to. But we do need to surf for info about our applications.

These days, I find my searching going on more about an application that I want to run on GNU/Linux or *BSD. For example, Postfix. Recently I needed to remind myself how to do TLS-enabled SMTP AUTH with Postfix, and for that, it doesn't really matter which UNIX-like OS that you run. Same with Apache. If I need to do something w/ my Web server, I then Google for Apache and the specific functionality that I need.

Nowadays, with more desktop-oriented distros like Ubuntu and the new Debian Etch (no, Sarge wasn't that easy, but Etch is nearly Ubuntu-like), things pretty much just work out of the box. You don't have to issue the memsize= parameter anymore to see all your DRAM. You don't have to issue cryptic commands just to format that new 750GB monster hard disk you just installed. With the exception of the crappy Broadcom wireless, things Just Work (TM) and have for quite a few years.

That may be why the "Linux" searches are going down, because interest in GNU/Linux is, if Dell is any indication, going up!


Regulatory re-thinking

ig's picture

The big problem with "last mile" is that the way telephone monopolies are regulated is 20 years out of date. There is no longer any difference between local and long distance, between voice and data, between anything and anything else. It's just a pipe.

Regulatory agencies now must eliminate the distinction between an ILEC and a CLEC. They should let any carrier deliver any service they want. But, carriers should not be allowed to own or operate the last mile. Every central office should essentially become a colocation center operated by a company that then sells copper or fiber loops to customers in the area. Any carrier, regardless of whether it's Verizon, AT&T, Google, or Mom & Pop's Internet, will then have equal access to the last mile.

The Model is here

christopher's picture

Doc, I've been a fan for awhile and I love when you jump on Leo's podcasts.

One of the great things about the U.S. is the many different ways we do things - though not great if you live in an area where they do them wrong...

A number of communities don't have to worry about the telcos and cablecos - they have built municipal networks and let any service provider compete on equal terms. In some places it means 8M symmetrical internet, other places considerably more.

I strongly believe the solution to many of our problems is to create a true market for broadband. That means we can't have one company own the wires - it needs to be open to all. Time for government to build wires like it builds roads and let the market work. I'm thankful UPS doesn't build roads, it does what it does best - use the roads.

Citywide fiber networks, financed by wholesaling access are a great way to open the net back up to innovation. This is what Burlington, Vermont is doing - though they also offer services on the network. Check out a case study I just wrote about them (just covered in Info Week as well).

I would love any comments.

"Netco" exists today; Zoomy builds FTTH networks

Diane Kruse's picture

I loved reading your article, because it reinforces why we started Zoomy. Zoomy essentially is "Netco"; we build, own and operate pure Fiber to the Home networks for real estate developments. We bring either a 100 Mbps or 1 Gbps pipe to the home, and then lease the network to best in class carriers to provide Internet, phone and cable TV; and anything else that you could possibly want. We pay for the capital costs and we operate the network.

How about telco = notwork, netco = network?

Anonymous's picture

How about telco = notwork, netco = network? Probably too simplistic, but the first thing that pops into my head.

I think one thing that is absolutely necessary to get this idea off the ground is elimination of the ability of the telcos and cablecos to file lawsuits and/or regulatory objections that the netcos are intruding on their protected turf. I hold very little hope that we could get the various government bodies that control this to clear out those artificial barriers, which I fear would be fatal to the netcos.

A second matter that I can't see past is, even assuming that legal/regulatory disputes are blocked, the telcos and cablecos would likely undercut the rates of the netcos to keep the business of people who value a few bucks more than they value a true open internet until the netcos run out of resources and fold. Big, incumbent monopolies, right? You know that's what they'll do. If there are enough people who value the open internet to keep the netcos in business, this will be less of a problem. Not sure if it will be enough less -- it surely would limit uptake to a lot less than it would be without the predatory pricing.

I think we need a solution to those two roadblocks much more than we need a clever recharacterized name for the crippled service the telcos and cablecos offer. (And there may be other big non-technical stumbling blocks that I'm not thinking of right away, but those two will do for starters.)

Sorry to be a bit negative, but that's my nature. I see the problems. I hope pointing them out gets someone more clever than I am to figure out ways to solve them. I sure don't have any idea how to get around these two.

Telco/cableco lawsuits and regulatory objections

Doc Searls's picture

On your first point, about regulatory and legal shennanigans by the telcos and cablecos, I agree, and I hear a lot about this on varioius backchannels. I've even received a few .pdfs in the mail. But I haven't found much linkage to online documents that reveal exactly what's going on. Can you point to some? That would help.

As for the carriers dropping prices to compete, I see no sign that they'd be willing to do this, at least not in the short term. Phone companies are used to charging high premiums (often many times the price of home service) for "business services" that consist of nothing more than turning off port blockages and offering a bank of IP addresses. And cable companies simply copy the phone companes on this policy. I'm sure if netcos succeeded, they'd wake up eventually; but even then there is no sign that they'd be willing to provide real services to real customers.

Doc Searls is the Editor in Chief of Linux Journal

Telco/cableco lawsuits and regulatory objections

rkd's picture

Odd. A few days ago, I thought I saw a post pointing you to some information about the legal problems with the carriers that Lafayette LA had, but it seems to be gone now. Maybe I was hallucinating. Anyway, below are some references I found in a little bit of web searching. I'm no expert on the subject, and I'm sure someone who is more familiar with it than I am could give you a lot more information.

Lafayette LA:



http://www.ftthcouncil.org/documents/740333.pdf (page 15/16)

http://www.lafayetteprofiber.com/Blog/2005_11_01_lafayetteprofiber_archive.html (November 29 entry)









several states (interview with municipal broadband attorney):


Dropping prices

christopher's picture

Cities that have built networks have seen sudden price drops - check out the price wars around the UTOPIA deployment in Utah.

I feel the wireless mesh

root's picture

I feel the wireless mesh network just needs an appropriate technology.. wasnt there one.. which one? ;)