Net Neutrality & Failing Business Models


The current fight over Net Neutrality is critical to the openness of the Internet, long supported by some of us that helped make the Internet an every-day utility.  It is also the dying gasps of a very old business model - one between networks and end points/content providers. 

Quick History Lesson

  • Circa 1990s - a fight was breaking out between the networks (e.g, AT&T) and end-points (e.g, Microsoft) over control of information and intelligence.  AT&T wanted intelligence embedded in the network, in distribution.  Microsoft wanted intelligence embedded in their devices at the end of the "dumb pipes" (the network).  A few of us felt that if both sides kept an Either/Or mentality, the networks would lose, commoditizing themselves through price wars racing to the bottom.  If we took an And/Both approach, the user would have more choices and more capabilities over time.  We know how it turned out - dumb pipes and smart ends. That was 25+ years ago! (Think T-Mobile + Netflix as a way to gain T-Mobile users);
  • December 1997 ~ I had an 8 month old son and a paper for the Harvard Kennedy School's Information Infrastructure Project entitled "Internet Settlements Pricing Model and Implications."  Fun reading!  I was part of a team at AT&T, working with other Internet Service Providers (ISPs), to self-govern the Internet - including requiring all of us to move data between ourselves at the speed specified by the packet header (e.g., latency requirements).  If you were making a phone call (yes, we had VOIP in 1997) that crossed networks, it had to be delivered without delay.  This meant that if an AT&T user wanted to connect to cool content on, say, MCI's network, AT&T had to send it through at the required speed; AT&T couldn't throttle down the packets because it was going to MCI.
odometer in neutral.jpeg

Fast forward 20 years and deja vu! The challenge in 2017 is the same as in 1997 -  how does a network provide value if it's a 'dumb pipe' - if what adds value is what's at the end? if it's the destination not the journey? If the only way you add value to users and your bottom line (hence shareholders) is to throttle speed based on who owns the content, you have no value proposition and no business model.  In 20+ years, the networks haven't figured out a way to add value (for themselves) without putting gates around their content and only allowing in members.  If they haven't yet, kinda makes you wonder when, or if, they ever will.


When Shoveling Sh&t is Easier

tractor shoveling roe.jpeg

Sometimes, shoveling sh&t is easier than shoveling caviar. It's the path of least resistance.  It makes sense. No one argues with you.  It's usually the right thing to do. Who in their right mind would keep the sh&t and shovel the caviar? 

But.... what if the best thing for your business, your organization, is to shovel the caviar, not the sh&t? That's crazy!!! You've spent years investing in that rare and unique caviar.  It's a valuable niche! Sure, it's harder to get it due to increasing geo-political entanglements, environmental and regulatory constraints and access to product, but it still has a strong profit margin and, you believe, defines your brand.  But, whether you admit it or not, the business model has run its course.

Sometimes, you have to shovel the caviar and keep the sh&t.  It's been a great ride; be grateful.  The costs are sunk - yup, down at the bottom along with the sturgeons, not coming to the top anymore. Time to move on.  Time to get out of the office, into the world, see what people need and want, and create something new.  It's time to shovel the caviar and keep the sh&t.


Rush to Discover, Don't Rush to Solve!

Oh wow! A problem.... let's go solve it! It's our first reaction, right? It's human.  We see a problem and our instinct is to start fixing it, solving it.

What if, instead of rushing to solve it, we rushed to discover as much as we could about the problem - like, why is it a problem, why is that a problem, why, why, why?  What are people doing when this is a problem? Is it only a problem when they are doing that? Where is it a problem? Only there? When is it a problem? Only then? What is the weather when it's a problem? What mood were they in when it was a problem? See? You learn so much when you Rush to Discover first.  You learn what really matters and why.  And guess what? Then you can work with the people who have this problem together - to create solution(s) that will really make a difference - that will work when, how, where it's a problem.

Rush to Discover. Don’t rush to Solve!

So, next time you see a problem, stop, discover and learn....