Its hard to imagine a company with less to worry about in the net neutrality debate than Siemens. With $75 billion in annual revenue, the global industrial giant has the pricing power to keep any Internet carrier in line. A move to charge more for some services, or to restrict access in any way, would simply result in the company moving its massive traffic elsewhere.
"Bigger companies have more options," said Ralph Riley, product marketing manager for Siemens Communications, the U.S. subsidiary of Siemens AG.
But Riley, a senior executive with the company, said he worries that the battle between carriers that want more money and net neutrality advocates who want more regulation might not end well.
"But when youre talking about smaller organizations that may not have as much market power, it can hurt," Riley said about restrictions of either type. "Its dangerous to business creation."
Why would Siemens worry about net neutralitys effects on smaller companies? Its customers arent necessarily big. "We sell to small and medium companies that are built on a low-cost structure and are net-dependent," said Riley in Ann Arbor, Mich.
He already sees potential for danger for his companys markets and customers. "This would probably restrict much of the drive toward mobility thats growing in American business," Riley said. He said that with greater regulation, it could become impossible for users to roam freely from one carrier to another as they do now.
"What it would do is suppress much of the opportunity businesses have in expanding mobility," he said. "How would you go anywhere without being charged too much or not getting access?"
But Riley said he also worries that too much regulation would be just as bad.
"When the government gets in, you lose agility, you stifle innovation and you reduce the value of mobility. There are almost no laws that can be put into place without a duplication of the entire tariff system from the old circuit-switched telephone days," he said.
The problem with this is that while it might prevent the kind of abusive charges that Gubas McInerney said he worries about, it could also give some companies an unfair advantage.
Riley said the current system works well. "The backbone gets to charge a fair rate, and the endpoints get to charge a fair rate," he said. "It has to stay market-based."
As it turns out, Riley said he wants the same thing that all these users want, which is to have unfettered access to the whole Internet at a reasonable cost. Just because Siemens can afford to ignore any given carriers demands doesnt mean its customers can, and that matters a great deal to the company, Riley said.
In this situation, Siemens Communications is like other Internet users, from the subsistence fishermen in Alaska to the struggling middle class in Washington to the startup in California. The potential for increased costs and restrictions on access could have dire consequences. As it stands now, the people with the most to lose are the same people who are being ignored in the net neutrality debate—those who pay the bills and depend on the Internet for their jobs; their education; and, in some cases, their lives.For other users views of net neutrality, read the following: