Sprint is leaving SpectrumCo in order to focus more attention on their WiMax build out. But what kind of Internet will they provide through WiMax? Sprint would have you believe it will be a neutral network, but don't believe everything you hear.
Last week Sprint announced its plan to team up with Google and provide its WiMax customers a wireless Internet on par with the wired Internet we all know and love. While this may mark a step in the right direction for Sprint, I remain unconvinced that Sprint is actually willing to embrace net neutrality. Take a closer look Sprint's statements:
- Mr. West did say, however, that companies offering especially bandwidth-hungry video and voice services would likely have to pay Sprint a premium to guarantee a high-quality experience for consumers.
This is not net neutrality. Barry West, head of Sprint's WiMax unit, seems to be saying Sprint will charge companies that need data delivered in a timely fashion for the use of Sprint's bandwidth. When he says Sprint will “offer all application providers equal access to its network,” he really means all application providers will have an equal opportunity to pay a lot of money to compete with the services we will provide. If Sprint starts offering video package, it would be free to raise the premium video services must pay until no one is left to compete.
Sprint is undeniably making progress in opening its network, however net neutrality advocates ought to be wary of Sprint's plan to charge companies a premium. In the past, wireless providers were able keep out of the net neutrality debate by claiming their limited bandwidth could not possible offer a neutral network. WiMax is supposed to provide speeds that will rival wired broadband. At such speeds, Sprint cannot justify charging bandwidth-intensive applications a premium without being drawn deeply into the net neutrality debate.
Barry West may use pro-net neutrality language, but some part of his message is eerily reminiscent of Ed Whitacre's. We will watch Sprint closely and continue pushing them to adopt a truly neutral network.