Network operators: How many can survive?

Voice and data service providers come in a variety of flavors. Starting at the top, there are the big network providers, the ones that make use of muni WiFi systems, and those in the unlicensed TV white space. How many of them do you think will survive in our free market?

Regardless of how many options we have, it seems someone always thinks we need more, believing that the more choices there are the better the pricing will be and the better off we will be. This is a nice idea, and you may believe this to be true, but we don't have to look very far to shoot holes in this idea. In the airline business, for example, more was supposed to be better. Are things better now that so many airlines have come and gone and so many of those left are losing money?

So more doesn't always mean better, and we aren't limited to wireless for our voice and data communications. There is also DSL, cable and fiber, mostly in urban areas where the population per square mile can support multiple choices. At issue is how many choices.

Those insisting on more choices and pressuring the government to require more wireless networks think we should be paying less for our access or that we are entitled as Americans to free Internet access. I'm not sure where "free" comes from, but I know some Internet folks seem to believe the Internet is free so all access to the Internet should be free. Upon reflection, everyone knows that the Internet highway is not free. There are toll collectors at every onramp and someone pays the toll, even if it is a coffee shop paying for a T-1 line so you can have "free" access while you drink your coffee.

In a typical city that supports fiber to the home, citizens can usually choose from three types of wired services: DSL, cable and fiber. If fiber is not available, they still have DSL and cable with which to access the Internet from their homes and businesses, not counting special data circuits such as T-1 or DS-3 that can be leased by the month. So we start with a minimum of two wired choices.

Next we have the four nationwide wireless networks for voice and data (five if you count Nextel as a separate network) and those pushing for more networks want a new nationwide network. This is interesting since four out of five of our nationwide networks did not start out nationwide, they merged and bought their way to nationwide status over time. So, now we will have six choices (or seven counting Nextel)...Continued

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