There are several approaches that government, industry and even Internet and wireless users can take (and in many cases have already taken) to avoid a deadlock over net neutrality and infrastructure investments. These include offloading data traffic from carrier networks onto personal networks, the availability of vacant broadcast spectrum, or "white spaces," over which wireless devices can connect, and more flexible approaches to pricing.
"In most industries, when customers want more of your product, it's better for you," Columbia University Law School professor Tim Wu said during the forum. "Yet carriers complain about demand for their product."
Telecom companies, including KT, AT&T and Verizon, have been pushing customers to install microcell, picocell or femtocell base stations in their homes and offices that that allow subscribers to offload network traffic. "This is probably the most effective way for carriers to meet demand without spending too much on their infrastructure," Nick Karter, a senior director of global business development and product management at Qualcomm, said at the forum. Newer smart phones, including the iPhone, are designed to connect to the Net via wi-fi whenever possible to prevent strain on AT&T's wireless network. This is a practical approach, Cisco's Pepper said, given that more than 90 percent of mobile device use takes place indoors, where wireless access points and personal base stations can be installed.
The FCC is allowing unlicensed smart phones, computers and other wireless devices to connect to the Internet via white spaces, a move that will also help remove traffic from wireless networks. Spectrum is perhaps the most important resource for broadband, Phoebe Yang, senior advisor to the FCC chairman on broadband, said at the gathering. How this works out in practice will take some time. It takes anywhere from six to 13 years to repurpose spectrum from one use to another, Yang added.
Another option is for ISPs to develop pricing models that address both their concerns as well as those of their customers. ISPs might want to allow their customers to choose how their monthly bandwidth is allocated. Those who prioritize access to multimedia-heavy sites such as YouTube or Hulu would be charged accordingly, as would subscribers who mostly use the Internet for e-mail or online shopping. Still another option offered by some software-makers that telecommunications companies use to manage subscriber accounts and billing is to design a "turbo boost" button into different Web pages that users can click when they want to increase their connectivity speed temporarily, for example to watch a streaming video or download a movie. Much like cable companies charge for on-demand programs, turbo-boost use could be added to the subscriber's monthly bill.