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Net Neutrality’s Hollow Promise to Startups


Meet iHolo. This innovative (though hypothetical) startup sells a tiny cube that hooks into smartphones and projects a holographic image above the screen. Now we can see actual 3D holographic characters and movie explosions, hovering right in front of us! There’s just one problem: “Holovids” require an incredibly fast connection, and tons of bandwidth. The typical smartphone user has neither the speed nor the data capacity to use the new technology: after extended buffering waiting for the holovid to load, a user would exhaust his data plan within minutes.

Worried that users won’t materialize, iHolo offers a deal to the big wireless carriers: To any carrier that will boost the speed of iHolo customers and exempt iHolo material from users’ data caps, iHolo will sell a minority interest in its fledgling company.

It’s a potential win-win. iHolo gets access to much-needed capital, boosts demand for its product, and gains the stability that comes from having a big backer. That institutional support would mollify investors who would otherwise be wary of betting on an unproven technology. The carrier could differentiate itself in the wireless market, and the two companies could work together to figure out how to stream holovids efficiently.What’s not to love? Well, the business model that could make this innovation possible isn’t “neutral.” It could be banned if Net neutrality hardliners get their way.

Net neutrality — the idea that all data should be treated the same as it zips over the Internet — sounds appealing in principle. Who wouldn’t want every competitor to have a fair shot, and for the best ideas to rise to the top? But in practice, rigid Net neutrality regulation could cripple the potential business arrangements that help launch new companies.

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