Mark Cuban, the “Shark Tank” personality, entrepreneur and owner of the Dallas Mavericks basketball team, is not short of cash or opinions. Lately, the billionaire has been involved in an interesting back and forth over net neutrality.
Cuban is against government regulation of broadband. Broadly, he thinks that an unfettered market is best simply because regulators can’t foresee the future and the rules they write to control it will almost certainly cause more problems than they will solve.
The most interesting point he makes is that advanced applications may legitimately need more bandwidth to function. In a highly regulated environment, such applications may not be able to get that capacity. He explained his point in an interview with The Washington Post:
I want certain medical apps that need the Internet to be able to get the bandwidth they need. There will be apps that doctors will carry on 5G networks that allow them to get live video from accident scenes and provide guidance. There will be machine vision apps that use huge amounts of bandwidth. I want them to have fast lanes.
This gives some life to the standard objection that regulation will stifle innovation. Why would a company spend millions of dollars developing an application that could be restrained from optimal operation by governmental rules?
However, I’ve found three issues with Cuban’s assessment.
One is that nothing is stopping the Federal Communications Commission from writing rules with enough flexibility to handle such situations.
The second is that having no rules in place lets the ISP pick winners and losers. In an unfettered environment, if Comcast or AT&T saw the promise in a machine vision app, for instance, they would be free to start their own initiative and then favor it over one started by an independent group.
The third problem is that he may be paying lip service to the lofty goal of encouraging investment.
Or, at least, so say his critics. Ben Popper at The Verge starts his commentary by noting that Cuban made his fortune by using the rules in place that guaranteed him fair access to ISPs’ subscribers when he and friends created Broadcast.com.
That piece of history is interesting. Popper then cites Cuban’s hypothetical willingness to use his financial strength to gain an advantage:
In fact, later on in the interview, after the bit about doctors and computer vision, Cuban, who owns the Dallas Mavericks basketball team, slips off the mask and reveals his naked self-interest. When asked about services that stream data which doesn’t count against a user's monthly cap, he replied, ‘If T-Mobile came to me and asked me if I wanted to subsidize their consumers getting [Dallas] Mavs games streamed live over their phones or to mobile home routers, without impacting their data caps, I would love it, if the price was right, and would do it in a heartbeat.’
The best answer may be to create regulations – but regulations with nuance. LightReading’s Mitch Wagner suggests rules that create fast lanes, along with other rules that promise that “the same deal [is] available to YouTube and ‘Joe’s Homemade Films’ too.”
Cuban may not be an expert on net neutrality, but he’s presented ideas that have brought out some creative ways to consider possible new legislation and how it could affect the future of the Internet.
Carl Weinschenk covers telecom for IT Business Edge. He writes about wireless technology, disaster recovery/business continuity, cellular services, the Internet of Things, machine-to-machine communications and other emerging technologies and platforms. He also covers net neutrality and related regulatory issues. Weinschenk has written about the phone companies, cable operators and related companies for decades and is senior editor of Broadband Technology Report. He can be reached at email@example.com and via twitter at @DailyMusicBrk.