Last week, when asked by BusinessWeek whether he was concerned about Google, MSN, Vonage, and other companies plans to get into broadband services, the CEO of the telco giant let slip his plans to create a "walled garden" where your freedom to surf is sacrificed at the altar of SBC profits:
Skype is free in-network, and very cheap out of network. How do you fight that?
You know what I think Skype does? I think they have no infrastructure, they don't make any investment, they use our network free. I think any business probably can do pretty well when you have no cost, only revenues, and you ride somebody else's service free. And that's what they do, and that can't last. They don't have a business out there, in my judgment.
Would you feel justified in blocking services like Skype from your broadband customers?
No, I'm not gonna block anybody's service. But if there's a basic unfairness out there, that usually gets resolved in this country in pretty short order.
Are you looking for regulatory relief for this?
Either that or let the market forces work. They're using [our infrastructure], they ought to be paying for it.
You also take a dim view of municipal-run wireless Internet programs.
I don't want my tax dollars to compete with private business. Why would a city want to get into this business? Why don't they fix the holes in the street, and stuff like that, which they're supposed to do? Don't use my tax dollars to build a telephone system to compete against private enterprise.
How do you think they’re going to get to customers? Through a broadband pipe. Cable companies have them. We have them. Now what they would like to do is use my pipes free, but I ain’t going to let them do that because we have spent this capital and we have to have a return on it. So there’s going to have to be some mechanism for these people who use these pipes to pay for the portion they’re using. Why should they be allowed to use my pipes?Americans take for granted the diversity of information and services they find at the click of a mouse. Whitacre is working to change this. His company -- along with the "duopoly" of cable and DSL providers that provide access to more than 90% of Americans -- are working overtime to horde your access to high-speed internet.
The internet can’t be free in that sense, because we and the cable companies have made an investment and for a Google or Yahoo! or Vonage or anybody to expect to use these pipes [for] free is nuts!
The threat to our ability to surf beyond the confines of content they approve – and profit from -- becomes very real under a broadband regime controlled by few players. They’ve waited for years for a return on their investment in laying fiber and cable infrastructure. Now they want payback, at the expense of consumer choice.
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