Is John Legere 'Uberizing' communications?

12 Feb 2016

As featured in DisruptiveViews

You have to admire John Legere. Most people who are told that what they are doing is illegal mutter ‘sorry’ under their breath, pack up and go home. Not John. It seems that the introduction of net neutrality, sorry, the Open Internet Order of 2015, is like a red rag to a bull to John. Even the name ‘Open Internet Order’ sounds like a bleak, gray, institutionalized – frankly communist – dictat.

John used to be a mild-mannered man. If you look him up, you will find standardized corporate head and shoulder shots of a middle to senior executive climbing the corporate ladder at AT&T, and not making too much fuss. Now we see the long-haired, retro maverick ranting away at the world in a pink T-shirt.

Thank goodness he has turned into a maverick, someone had to. The dull, anti-innovation pronouncements coming from the FCC offices are becoming extremely depressing.

The latest battle, which follow skirmishes about sponsored data generally, is about Binge On. Binge On, the latest in a series of ‘uncarrier’ moves by T-Mobile, allows certain customers to watch as much video as they want without denting their data bucket. That part is – legally – probably fine. What is not fine, according to the FCC and a Stanford Law Professor called Barbara van Schewick, is that there are ‘approved’ providers. That means discrimination. This, they say, is what makes the service illegal.

Frankly, you have to feel sorry for Professor van Shewick. She has gone to the trouble of filing a 51 page report with the FCC so that everyone can point at it and say ‘I told you so,’ and ‘that will teach them.’ And it will have absolutely no bearing on anything. Let us hope they paid her properly.

The main reason for hope is that regulators can now be swayed (hugely) by popular opinion. And John Legere knows it.

He has watched Uber battle regulators and taxi companies. And win. He has watched them mobilize real people on real streets with real banners. And he has watched them make the regulator realize that what Uber is doing is not against the consumer’s interest (quite the contrary) and it is not anti-competitive. In fact, it probably made regulators realize that the taxi business is just one other in the realm of established incumbents that need a good shake-up. The hotel trade is being similarly disrupted by AirBnB, and the list will grow.

John Legere is setting about the uberization of communications and a bunch of desk jockeys in Washington DC are not going to stop him. Binge On is technically illegal. His customers want it, in their millions, and they will hold sway. If we want a completely open internet, then let us have a completely open internet (not the FCC ‘Open Internet’).

What the customers want, the customers should get. John Legere will deliver it and, if he needs it, he now has an army of millions who he can mobilize if the Regulator does not see it his way.

Now, that’s competition. Good on you, John.

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