And it can be won, in the market. A new Light Reading report, headlined "QoS Revenues Could Net Billions," indicates that the number on those billions is 2, a pimple on the $50 billion Internet access market. (Most revenue still comes from voice, which is why the telcos are fighting so hard.)
Meanwhile political activists continue to fight the Bells hard, learning valuable lessons along the way. What is usually an elite battle, fought among lawyers in Washington, has become a real political war, something the Bells are ill-equipped to handle.
So let’s assume a strategic retreat. Is the battle won?
Why? One word.
Peering is the task of connecting networks together. Under regulations going back 20 years telephone companies were forced to connect their networks with other network providers on a fairly equal basis. In fact at the heart of the Internet is the idea that "we won’t worry about the money, just pass the bits."
But the mergers of AT&T and MCI into SBC and Verizon, combined with the Bells’ successful legal fights to have their offerings called unregulated "information services," could change matters.
Between them, the two companies now control the vast majority of the "backbone," the fiber-based city-to-city links on which the U.S. Internet depends. There is far, far more capacity here than could ever be used. While the Bells are hoarding maybe 90% of local bit-power, they’re probably hoarding 99% or more of what is available in their fiber trunks.
But that doesn’t matter. By hoarding those bits, and demanding high prices to connect with other networks, the Bells could still strangle the Internet. As we’ve seen they have every incentive to do so — their fiscal lives are at stake. (The voice revenues are going to disappear, leaving a giant hole in their balance sheets.)
One battle is ending, but another will soon be joined.