A Radically Different ISP Could Change the Net Neutrality Debate

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Currently, US-based broadband internet access is dominated by a few companies, some of whom enjoy outright monopolies.  But advancements in ‘fixed wireless’ broadband delivery could change that landscape — and net neutrality — in the future.

The recent repeal of net neutrality in the US is frequently criticized as a gift to entrenched, billion-dollar ISPs.  Companies like Comcast, Cox Communications, and Verizon want to charge companies for access to their customers, starting with paid ‘fast lanes’ and other tolls.

Now, they have the power to do just that.

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Sadly, consumers often have little choice when it comes to their ISP.  And in many areas, there’s only one viable option for receiving broadband internet access.  All of which means that many Americans are stuck paying high-priced (and increasing) bills for a service that may soon offer slower delivery of non-paying sites and services.

Now, there may be a dramatically cheaper internet delivery technology on the horizon.  Indeed, a classic ‘disruption’ could be brewing in this category, thanks to a pair of aggressive upstarts.

Enter Starry Wireless, a Boston-based company working to develop a totally different solution to broadband internet access.

Starry is focused on ‘fixed wireless’ broadband, which involves base stations delivering over-the-air internet to nodes within a geographic radius.

Those nodes are called Starry Points (see above), which deliver internet access by communicating with a base station.

The concept was started by Chet Kanojia, who also founded Aereo (more on that later).  In early 2016, the company started deploying this concept in urban areas, planting base stations on building tops to communicate with Starry Points.  Basically, Starry uses millimeter wave technology to deliver and receive data packets, with speeds of roughly 200 mbps in many deployments.

This is all tech-babble for most people until you start talking about the price.  Ultimately, Starry’s system could dramatically reduce the monthly fee for conventional broadband internet access.  In fact, competitive broadband bandwidth could drop as a low as $20 a month, a fraction of what providers like Comcast currently charge.

Currently, Starry is offering a ‘lightning fast’ 200 Mbps broadband WiFi station for $50 a month.  But Starry’s product and network is in its early stages.

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Now, Starry and Kanojia are putting this concept into overdrive.

Just this week at CES, Starry announced a partnership with Marvell, maker of 802.11ac and new 802.11ax chipsets.  Essentially, Marvell is helping Starry to build the radio chipset for its next-generation Starry Point system using the 802.11ax chip.  All of which means better internet access at potentially a fraction of the cost.

Now here’s the best part.  Starry and Marvell have also decided to keep their reference designs ‘open source,’ so anyone can build a fixed wireless system using the technology and patents.  It’s basically the same idea hatched by Tesla for battery technology, with the broader aim of growing a much bigger industry around the emerging technology.

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If all goes well, dozens of different companies and investors will jump into this ‘pre-standard 5G’ technology.  And finally give entrenched ISPs a run for their money.

And given the open ethos of Starry and Marvell, it’s likely the company will also favor a more open network as well.  After all, that’s what most customers want (and studies prove it).  And once a brand-new delivery network is created, the company controlling it gets to set the rules.

Right now, this idea is just gaining steam.  But once it starts to gather momentum, you can expect heavyweights like Comcast to start fighting it aggressively.  Aggressive rate drops, lawsuits, and legislative lobbying are just a few tools this mega-billionaire has used to tilt the playing field in its favor — and destroy burgeoning ideas and technologies in the process.

All of which makes Kanojia the perfect CEO.

Back in 2014, Kanojia lost a Supreme Court battle that effectively shut down his previous company, Aereo.  That brilliant idea delivered broadcast channels over the internet, with a rooftop of antennae capturing the over-the-air signals.  The signals were then transcoded into digital streams, and packaged into a monthly service for internet-based customers.

Of course, big networks hated the idea, and buried Aereo accordingly.  But Kanojia has undoubtedly learned some vital lessons from that loss.  And he’s obviously not afraid to challenged entrenched industries.

 


 

4 Responses

  1. Neil Turkewitz

    You write: “Back in 2014, Kanojia lost a Supreme Court battle that effectively shut down his previous company, Aereo. That brilliant idea delivered broadcast channels over the internet, with a rooftop of antennae capturing the over-the-air signals. The signals were then transcoded into digital streams, and packaged into a monthly service for internet-based customers.

    Of course, big networks hated the idea, and buried Aereo accordingly. But Kanojia has undoubtedly learned some vital lessons from that loss. And he’s obviously not afraid to challenged entrenched industries.”

    You seem to be missing the central point here. This “brilliant idea” was merely a mechanism for monetizing theft. Not the hallowed “Disruption,” but rather “Distortion.” And it’s not that big networks hated it, but that it was illegal, and stole the work product of countless creatives, big and small. I don’t know anything about Starry Wireless, and I greatly support increased fair competition, but their choice of a CEO makes this whole thing a bit suspicious. Someone looking for a technological trick without regard to justice or fairness. Will Kim Dotcom be brought in to run HR and provide strategic counsel? Not sure what you are celebrating here Paul.

    For a quick refresher, here is how the US Supreme Court described Aereo’s brilliant idea:

    “For a monthly fee, Aereo offers subscribers broadcast television programming over the Internet, virtually as the programming is being broadcast. Much of this programming is made up of copyrighted works. Aereo neither owns the copyright in those works nor holds a license from the copyright owners to perform those works publicly.”

    And their conclusion:

    “In sum, having considered the details of Aereo’s practices, we find them highly similar to those of the CATV systems in Fortnightly and Teleprompter. And those are activities that the 1976 amendments sought to bring within the scope of the Copyright Act. Insofar as there are differences, those differences concern not the nature of the service that Aereo provides so much as the technological manner in which it provides the service. We conclude that those differences are not adequate to place Aereo’s activities outside the scope of the Act.”

    https://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/13pdf/13-461_l537.pdf

    We need to be careful about celebrating Disruption without regard to modalities or consequences. Developing new ways to steal hardly constitutes society-improving Innovation. Hopefully Starry Wireless chose Kanojia despite his previous lack of judgment rather than as a result of it. I guess we will see. But in the meantime, can we please be careful about the kind of world we are inviting?

    • Ben

      If prior piratical activity is determinant of exclusion, doesn’t Spotify’s Danil Ek get the prize?

      Did he not transition an infringement-motivated peered-sharing service into a music service initially reliant upon that same peered sharing (using users’ bandwidth and file caches)?

      Strange bedfellows, eh? Or, rather, Ek?

  2. Paul Resnikoff

    Neil, I’m not sure it’s fair to attack Chet Kanojia in such a manner. After all, Aereo had its own arguments for why it wasn’t illegal, and properly aired those arguments in the legal system. That legal system determined that Aereo was not legal, and everyone went home.

    Isn’t that the definition of someone who played by the rules? The rules — or, interpretation of those rules — ultimately killed his company, but that looks like an actor playing within the parameters of the legal system.

    That’s the rule of law, and everybody played according to what the refs stated.

    It seems that because you disagree vehemently with Aereo’s argument, somehow Kanojia becomes a horrible person out to cheat, lie, and steal. But the US Supreme Court already decided that his company was wrong, and not operating legally. So there’s no more Aereo, and really, no need for more ‘judgment’.

    As for Starry, how can you allege that somehow this is a sneaky plot to cheat someone? It really looks to me like a wonderfully innovative concept that will dramatically increase competition in the ISP realm. That’s what consumers really want, especially given the extreme public pushback on how ISPs are conducting their business.

    Sounds like a potentially huge leap forward, regardless of whether you approve of the guy leading the effort.

    • Neil Turkewitz

      Paul,

      I am not attacking Kanojia, nor am I suggesting that Starry is some kind of a Trojan horse. I am merely responding to YOUR characterization of Aereo. You wrote:

      “Back in 2014, Kanojia lost a Supreme Court battle that effectively shut down his previous company, Aereo. That brilliant idea delivered broadcast channels over the internet, with a rooftop of antennae capturing the over-the-air signals. The signals were then transcoded into digital streams, and packaged into a monthly service for internet-based customers.

      Of course, big networks hated the idea, and buried Aereo accordingly. But Kanojia has undoubtedly learned some vital lessons from that loss. And he’s obviously not afraid to challenged entrenched industries.”

      You celebrate unfair competition as brillance, and blame “big networks” for burying innovation in order to protect some legacy business. I hope that you are right that Kanojia has learned from past mistakes. But the first step is to recognize the nature of one’s mistakes. His mistake was to launch a service premised on theft based on some perceived legal loophole without regard to whether the result was fair. He wanted to make money from someone else’s labor. Hopefully he is no longer looking for exploitative shortcuts. That would be a good outcome.