Wireless carriers: “the biggest threat to innovation”

As it’s title suggests, the central theme of Nilay Patel’s post at The Verge is that “Five years after the iPhone, carriers are the biggest threat to innovation.”  In concluding the post, Patel describes the wireless market as “a market that is driving players big and small away from mobile broadband as the carriers tighten their grip.”  

I’d highly recommend reading the full post, whose sobering message reminds me of my post yesterday.  In it, I briefly responded to Verizon’s recent FCC filing claiming broadband networks are carriers’ “modern-day microphones” by which they “engage in First Amendment speech.”

Patel’s post provides a sense of how Verizon’s “it’s my microphone” perspective is impacting end-users and device-makers, and the original vision of the Internet as an “open mic” platform empowering free speech for ALL of us, not just the giant carriers that have an exclusive lock on most of the nation’s usable spectrum (and/or wield unregulated and near-monopolistic control over our wired connections).

Here are some excerpts from Patel’s post, which I’d strongly recommend reading  in its entirety, since it fleshes out the picture much more fully than I do here, and with reference to and quotes from specific companies (bolding is mine).

[T]he massive success of Apple’s [iPhone] has overshadowed the grim reality of an American wireless marketplace that has become increasingly hostile to innovation — a market tightly controlled by carriers who capriciously pick winners and losers while raising prices and insisting that their use of valuable public spectrum remain free of any oversight…

Instead of seeing the benefits of free competition at the consumer level, the carriers are now exerting more control than ever before as demand for mobile devices skyrockets. Getting a device on a major carrier can take up to 15 months and cost millions of dollars; carriers are notorious for demanding custom devices in order to create customer lock-in…

Even powerful and established companies like Google and Microsoft are now avoiding the carriers as they scramble to compete with Apple…And while the big companies are happy to sidestep the carriers in order to reach consumers, the real tragedy is that smaller companies are deciding that innovating in mobile just isn’t worth the cost of dealing with the carriers…

And carriers rarely want what’s best for their customers. “The carriers have always been wary of ‘excessive’ innovation in the mobile space because of the danger that it might make mobile service cheaper,” says Columbia Law School professor and The Master Switch author Tim Wu.

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