2006, a tumultuous year in Broadband

When the big ball finally drops on 2006 Monday morning, it will end a tumultuous year in broadband, an industry well out of the telecom-bust doldrums and revving up alongside the Web 2.0/online video/new telephony mini-booms. Here’s a quick list (with even quicker takes) on some of the events whose impact will continue to be felt into 2007, a year that promises to be just as newsworthy if not more so.

1. Google Buys YouTube (Oct. 9): For $1.65 billion, the search giant overnight became the leader in online video-sharing. The combination of YouTube’s videos with Google’s war chest is a power not yet fully realized or understood, but unquestionably feared and loathed by many sectors of the online and analog world, from cablecos to telcos to Hollywood. Part of just about every discussion involving TV and the Internet.

2. Vonage IPO (May 24): Easily one of the most dubious debuts on the public markets, the Vonage IPO nevertheless raised enough cash to keep the company independent, and on its way to 2 million users. Though the future may get darker before it gets brighter, Vonage closes the year alive, still able to look for the light at the end of the tunnel, and still a big player in the VoIP arena.

3. AT&T to Buy BellSouth (March 5): The seemingly inevitable march to put Ma Bell back together continued with the deal to combine the Southern RBOC with the monster formerly known as SBC. While the deal’s final regulatory approval is still hung up in political football, the digestion should be cleared to begin in January, after which we will all see how much shareholder value this “logical next step” really creates, while it ends telecom careers by the thousands.

4. House Says ‘No’ to Net Neutrality (June 8 ): The weird, wacky and widely misunderstood topic of Net Neutrality suffered a loss in the only real vote taken on it; however, due to inaction in the Senate and the role-reversal November elections, Net Neutrality proponents may yet win the war, since Democrats in the House and Senate committees overseeing broadband generally favor the concepts. Watch for new telecom reform legislation and more Net Neutrality debates in 2007.

5. BitTorrent Goes Legit (May 9): Perhaps seeking ways not to become the next Napster, the scourge of Internet service providers everywhere showed some business savvy by signing up content creators like Warner Bros., who may have seen a way to beat the pirates at their own game. More deals and more money for BitTorrent shows that the beast that eats up 30 percent of all online traffic may be learning how to play nice.

6. Sprint Announces WiMAX Plans (Aug. 8 ): The nascent broadband technology known as WiMAX got its biggest boost yet when Sprint Nextel announced big plans for a mobile WiMAX network that it would start deploying by the end of 2007. Big partners named Intel, Motorola and Samsung added weight to the announcement, bringing enough marketing and manufacturing muscle to guarantee some WiMAX signal, even if customers aren’t so quick to jump on the wireless bandwagon.