Sweden Predicts the Future of Broadband and It May Scare You

Last December I covered a Swedish telecom regulator’s report on the effect open networks have on competition and broadband innovation. At the time I could only read the abstract, but was fascinated enough to hope that it would be translated into English. That day has come.

You may remember Sweden from reports last week listing it as the country most ready to prosper from its information and communications infrastructure. Even though it’s on top, the country is still wrestling with the same worries we have about open access, net neutrality and ensuring private investment in a resource that directly affects the public welfare: broadband. If you don’t have time to read the whole 162-page report, skip to page 90, where the regulators pull out a crystal ball to imagine four potential paths the Internet could take in Sweden — and then imagine something similar happening here in the U.S.:

  1. The Best Effort Network: This future embraces net neutrality and the demands by content providers and activists for a best-effort web, but “uncertainty about the potential to make a return on infrastructure investments could slow the pace of rollout and thus the transformation to new access technologies.”
  2. The Utopia Network: Somehow ISPs and content providers figure out how to set very specific rules over how traffic is prioritized and by whom. That level of certainty allows ISPs to make investments and ensures that new business models can emerge.
  3. The Cable Television Web: This Internet doesn’t refer to actual cable providers, but to the business model of selling premium content and services. This scenario is one where ISPs have figured out that they can build out managed services and charge based on delivering their own products at high quality. Other players and even consumers may end up with the scraps, unless they sign deals with the ISPs, as we’ve written about here.
  4. The Surveillance Web: This is the ISP-as-spy vision of the future. Because ISPs have to be responsible for what traverses their network, they are will become closed and less tolerant of experimentation, and innovation will flounder.

Image courtesy of Flickr user Panoramas

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