How Consumers Will Take Back the Internet in 2010

The way we communicate, conduct business and entertain ourselves using the Internet is changing very quickly -- and for the better. Customer choice is driving major innovation in voice services, wireless data and just about every other area that involves the Internet or consumer electronics. I for one am totally stoked, as this realignment will benefit consumers enormously. Based on what's already happened in 2010, signs point to a year in which we gain more control over how we can use and pay for Internet services and consumer electronics. Witness the huge confluence.%%DynaPub-Enhancement class="enhancement contentType-HTML Content fragmentId-1 payloadId-61603 alignment-right size-small"%% To start with, Google (GOOG) rolled out its Nexus One phone branded as a Google phone designed by Google engineers and explicitly offered as an unlocked unit so customers can select which wireless network to patronize. The Google phone prominently runs Google Voice, a VoIP app that does an end run around the wireless carriers and lets users make super cheap international calls.

Carriers' Meat and Potatoes

Add to this the still booming popularity of the Apple (AAPL) iPhone and its application constellation and it becomes very clear that the wireless carriers are more comfortable providing data connectivity than trying to sell us the phone, the network and the software that runs on top of it. This was a regime that clearly didn't work, considering the difference in the wireless scene before and after the arrival of the iPhone.

At the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, Panasonic and LG unveiled television sets that come pre-loaded with Skype and can morph the sets into video conference units. Further, anyone with a Skype account can also turn their television into a regular telephone, a call and video recorder, and any other number of applications that ride on top of Skype.

And Skype itself, as a voice services provider, continues to grow by leaps and bounds. A growing number of customers are unplugging not only wire-line but even VoIP-based phones provided by cable and Internet companies. They're replacing them with Skype accounts that allow them to turn their computer into a sophisticated telephone system.

The Netflix Effect

In video, Clicker, Boxee, and other online video aggregation and management tools make it super simple to roll your own video entertainment channel. Meanwhile, cable giant Comcast (CMCSA) is not only offering physical digital video recorders, but also the capability for customers to watch video programming online in a browser-based setting, a move that is clearly a response to Netflix's rapidly growing streaming service.

Never before has it been so easy to stop paying for cable and still receive a plethora of excellent programming. You may miss Lost but you can replace with hundreds of other programs, interviews and fascinating video content.

All that's left is a lower-priced, all-you-want-to-watch video subscription package that content providers might try to strike with Apple or another company (although Netflix is halfway there with its $9 per month package that includes loads of streaming programs). This type of deal the cable companies might hate, but the content networks like News Corp (NWS) and Disney (DIS) might love, considering the brutal ongoing battles over carriage fees for many previously free cable stations.

Something For Everyone

None of this is news to the alpha geeks of the world. But what's changed is now these types of choices are easy enough for the average Technology Joes to access and use. The pricing pressure that these changes will unleash on the various parts of the content, wireless, cable, and Internet ecosystem will be enormous.

But there will be one clear winner -- and that will be you and me as its easier than ever to roll an Internet services package that precisely fits prescribed needs and at a lower price.
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