Against Monopoly

defending the right to innovate

Monopoly corrupts. Absolute monopoly corrupts absolutely.

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Free the Airwaves

What is the next great wave of innovations? It is hard to know for sure, but over-the-air internet seems an obvious possibility. We observe the following facts

*Cell phone service is highly monopolistic and lousy.

*Over-the-air internet service has arrived - watch people with their iphones at the restaurant...

*Over-the-air internet service is lousy - watch how long it takes them to load a web page

This raises the question: what would really good over-the-air internet service do? Really high speed all the time everywhere over-the-air internet exists in laboratories all over the world. It is directional and frequency hopping and it cleverly gets around problems of interference, including that caused by other devices. The technology is there now. Why can't we have all the information in the world at our fingertips all the time? Think of all the great business opportunities - from revolutionizing markets for small businesses, to great new businesses, to the business of writing the software, building the small portable internet devices, to building the large radio networks needed to make the vision a reality. Expensive proprietary over-the-air networks revolutionized trucking and shipping. Why not revolutionize everything else? There is no question that there is huge opportunity here: for individual people to make their fortune, for the more average of us to make a living in a new and growing industry.

So what is keeping the vision from reality? Not enough support from the government? No - government is the problem. From dragging their feet on the allocation of "white space" spectrum, to delaying the introduction of HDTV, to the more fundamental problem of tying up massive amount of bandwidth with obsolete over the air television that provides minuscule benefits to practically nobody - government regulation is the culprit. We don't need "net neutrality" laws; we don't need government regulation of the airwaves - we need competition, hard and fierce and innovative.

And let us not forget patents and copyright. So much of the new technology is tied up with patents of course. But I'm especially reminded of a conversation I had with Gary Shapiro, President of the Consumer Electronic Association, who I met at a Cato conference several years ago. He represents mostly smaller electronics firms - exactly the ones who are eager to innovate and bring new products to market. What is their greatest fear? That competitors will steal their ideas if they don't tie them up with patents? Of course not. It is that they will be sued by copyright holders for somehow encouraging piracy. If you want to know what that is all about, go look up the case of Replay TV.

Finally - what does it take to succeed? The biggest success of the last decade is Google. Did they do this by trying to squelch the competition with legal means? No. They have a vision - all information at your fingertips all the time - and they've ruthlessly pursued that vision, necessarily bending and breaking copyright laws along the way. So...do we spend our time patenting elaborate business models? Or do we build better mousetraps?

I think it is time to start a campaign to free the airwaves. The time has come for inexpensive high quality access to everyone and everything all the time.


Ahead of the curve for once: via Slashdot Google, Microsoft and Motorola for starters seem to agree with me.

They really do not have to worry about someone tying up ideas with patents, do they?

Check what Qualcomm's business model is.
In the great things that could be done with over-the-air internet access file...Not something I would have dreamed up. Also via Slashdot computerized comparison window shopping.

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