Happy New Year! I was thinking back on the last year, reflecting on all of the changes in the IT industry, and in true nerd fashion, I opened a bottle of wine in search of the most poignant change that I expect to see in 2018. In the end, I ended up with two predictions linked to a common theme: the repeal of net neutrality.

First, I predict that we’ll start seeing effects of that legislation early in 2018, likely by the summer time. The anti net neutrality sponsors won’t be able to help themselves; they’ve got to institutionalize changes before the winds can blow in a different direction. I predict the first signs to emerge will be Internet access plans that distinguish based on access to content. These won’t be subtle plans — they’ll look a lot like your TV subscription in the flavor of something like “basic browsing” that will cost less than your current rate and a more expensive “streaming media” package that gives you access to content outside of that offered by your service provider.

The second is that we’ll see an emergence of one or more access/service providers that use this as a land grab opportunity, ruthlessly focusing on providing incredibly affordable, unfiltered bandwidth. I know that this goes against all of the fears associated with the repeal of net neutrality, but bear with me here.

On the business front, service providers now have their shackles removed, and they get to decide how and where to make money. While having tiered service bandwidth, selective content access or acceleration sounds great on paper, show me a customer that wants to buy that service. They may be forced to due to lack of local competition, but they’ll go kicking and screaming (and cussing). Leaning on one of my favorite business books, in the advent of the information age, “Your brand isn’t what you say it is. It’s what they (your customers) say it is.” Some service provider is going to have a “D’oh” moment and internalize that what customers want is access to inexpensive bandwidth, and that company is going to capitalize on the changing access landscape. Now, the trick is how to make money doing it :-).

Evaluating the technology involved, there is a tremendous equipment, development and operational cost in providing selective or tiered service. Someone will follow the lead of companies like Google, whose search “service” is provided free to customers. Google is ruthlessly focused on providing the best search results while driving their cost to provide search as close to $0 as possible. Today Google and their Internet peers like Amazon, Facebook, and Netflix carry a tremendous percentage of today’s Internet traffic, and they do with a cost structure many orders of magnitude lower than a typical service provider. They accomplish this by using industry standard hardware components, purpose built operational software, and a strong engineering culture.

With both a will and a way, I see that brave soul stripping down the traditional structure of a service provider and build themselves up using (and improving on) blueprints put forth by others such as Google and Facebook. With a constant focus on infinite bandwidth at zero cost, they will be able to satisfy their customers’ desires and build a strong, relevant brand in an area that has been deemed dearth of innovation.

So, now that my wine glass is empty, for the second time, I sit back and watch the war between my desire for the repeal of net neutrality to be an non-event and my ego that wants these predictions to be right. Let’s see what 2018 brings us.

Fly Be Free