Swedish firm makes a business out of net neutrality

Businessweek has an article about ViaEuropa, a Swedish company that manages the fiber networks of sixty Swedish cities, based on the open access model. The chairman of ViaEuropa is Jonas Birgersson, a flamboyant (by Swedish standards) entrepreneur, who in the late 1990s, started several companies including Bredbandbolaget (an Internet service provider) which he sold to Norwegian telco, Telenor, for $730 million.

Birgersson wonders why the US does not move to the open access model, which creates more competition in the market for broadband services (lower prices, higher speeds) and not coincidentally, benefits HIS business. He believes that fiber infrastructure should not be monopolized by one provider; rather, it should be shared among several providers (net neutrality).

On how this applies to municipal broadband, here’s a quote from the Businessweek article:

Regulators have spent the last 20 years trying to unbundle networks and services, in part to prevent such cross-subsidization. “One of the dangers at the moment with investment in fiber is you shut out the rest of the market,” says Dimitri Yspsilanti, head of the OECD’s telecom unit and a co-author of the report. “If you have an architecture that is closed, competition built up over the last decade or more will disappear.” That’s precisely what Birgersson argues. U.S. cities such as Philadelphia and San Francisco, which have already tried and failed to build their own public networks, are natural partners for a company like ViaEuropa, says William Hahn, a Delaware analyst covering carrier operations and strategies for technology consultancy Gartner. “If ViaEuropa can go in and say ‘we can do it right’ to cities that have already proven friendly to the idea, everybody is going to pay attention to that,” says Hahn.

Birgersson’s company won’t find much business in the US unless: (a) US laws require structural separation of services and infrastructure; and (b) cities and regions invest money in fiber infrastructure.