My wife and I just returned from ISPCON late yesterday. Over the last five or six years I have attended several trade shows and while I would not consider myself an expert in this subject I can tell you that it is not difficult to tell ISPCON from the average show. Everything (I mean EVERYTHING) is handled in a manner that could only be labeled as first class. The only complaint I had was the show packed too much into to too short a time – if you could call that a complaint.

Over the next several days I will try to drill down on many of the specifics of what was presented. I can tell you that Matt Larsen and Tom DeReggi did nothing short of excellent in their presentations. This is not to say that the other sessions we attended we anything less than excellent – quite the contrary – every single event we participated was fantastic! I really wish I could have attended all of them but there are only so many hours in a day and there are four concurrent tracks taking place at any given time so we were forced to choose carefully.

There were two events that happened during the show that stand out in a show that had a continuous stream of fantastic offerings and I will be writing more on these events in the coming days.

On Wednesday night there was an informal meeting listed as the ISP-CEO roundtable discussion. While I wasn’t sure exactly what to expect, I can reliably tell you that this evening turned out to be one of the most enjoyably, educational and enriching evenings in my entire life – no kidding!

Originally scheduled from 5:00 to 7:00PM my wife and I reluctantly left the group at midnight. I understand that quite a few people stayed until 3:00 in the morning. Doug McDonald did an outstanding job moderating the discussion while keeping the conversation going and doing it with a sense of humor.

The evening covered topics ranging from interacting with your local politicians along with the FCC to how to role out a fiber network in rural areas that is cash flow positive in 90 days. Along the way was a very frank discussion about what we are doing that is working for us in our individual businesses and what isn’t. Let’s face it, it is a difficult thing to stand up and discuss what is working for you in front of your competitors but it is even more of a challenge to stand up and lay out where you failed. However, as most of us know, we do learn a lot more from our failures than we do our successes.

I cannot even begin to express the true value of this meeting to you as you would have had to been there to experience the entire event to comprehend the total value. I am happy to say that I cannot remember any time that I have ever been surrounded by such brilliant people, where open and honest communication was the tone and where the quality of information was unparalleled. This one event would have justified the entire cost and time we dedicated to the show yet it was only one event out of a schedule of many.

On Thursday morning we arrived with the intention of attending two sessions but instead became engrossed in conversations with people who had attended the roundtable meeting the night before. I was amazed that everyone I spoke to came away from that meeting with near religious reverence for what we had all participated in. Everyone, without exception, had universally the same thing to say, they all felt enriched and each one managed to have a collection of little snippets from the discussion that we all picked up on and continued the subject for the next three hours. Reluctantly, we all moved to a luncheon event featuring Earl Comstock as the guest speaker who provided a 15 minute overview of the Brand X case.

For those of you who do not know anything about Earl Comstock he is a telecommunications lawyer who was deeply involved in the original Telecommunications Act of 1996. This man understands our industry and has a grasp of what the regulatory environment that governs us is doing for us as well as against us.

If you haven’t been following the Brand X case, we are now waiting for the final decision from the Supreme Court as to whether the Cable Companies will have to open up their networks in the same manner as the ILECs were forced to allow us access to their networks. This case goes far deeper than the impact it will have in the cable industry, it also touches on whether or not the telecommunications network could be close off as well as whether or not WISPs will have to open up their networks!

Additionally, the audience learned that some of the “truths” we seem to believe are completely incorrect and more importantly that the logic behind our reasoning is flawed from a legislative standpoint.

In a nutshell, here’s what you need to know.
We don’t have any say over what traffic can pass over our networks. This leads us back into the discussion we have been having about blocking VoIP or P2P networks.

Incredibly, this is something that is what protects us and keeps us in business. This is how I believe we need to look at this issue. What we have to realize it that we need to embrace the fact that whatever regulations we ask the powers that be to pass must apply to everyone else equally. In other words we cannot ask for the regulatory body to “regulate them but not us” and expect this to happen. If we demand that the ILECs and the cable companies carry our traffic (unfiltered) we must also do the same thing. If we demand that the ILECs are mandated to allow us to connect then we are also forced to connect anyone who requests our service – even a competitor.

This is because we do not “own” our networks. Okay, before you hit me with the “we do too” comeback, we don’t own our networks in the eyes of the regulatory bodies. Once we sell to the public over a public resource (spectrum) we become common carriers in the eyes of the law. If we choose to enter into this field we MUST accept all of the rules and conditions set out under that set of regulations.

In the coming days (as time and comprehension allows) I will be providing more information about what I picked up at ISPCON and how it applies to all of us. Hang in there, it’s going to be a fun ride.

Here is an unsolicited and uncompensated comment.

If you have never attended an ISPCON, you need to. This is an event with no equal, first class and one of the finest opportunities any of us will ever have to get exactly the information we need to run our businesses. Specifically, Jon Price is nothing short of a genius and manages to keep a hopelessly complex show running and on-track while still keeping his poise and never seeming as though he was even breaking a sweat.

I can personally attest that this is the show to attend, it is well worth the cost in both time and money. The education I received in this event will provide me the edge necessary to move forward and make the right decisions.

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