I’m in front of a non-TiVo-enabled television this evening, which has permitted me to see ads for a search site called YP.com. It’s a rebranded YellowPages.com, affiliated with AT&T, and it’s organized to be a search engine for the things in your life—dining, travel nightlife—distinguished from Google’s utilitarian-tech web search. Meanwhile Microsoft’s Bing has overtaken Yahoo! as the number two search engine. I was surprised to learn that “undisputed search king” Google has only 65 percent of the search market. Google is doing well, of course, but it can’t be comfortable with all these well-funded rivals circling it.
This is good news for consumers. These competitors are driving Google to improve, and they can pull consumers away from Google by serving search niches such as lifestyle search (as YP does), more privacy protective search, and so on. Competitors will threaten and cut into Google’s advertising profits, too.
Television ads also remind us that HughesNet is offering broadband Internet via satellite. It’s mostly aimed at moving rural Internet users off of dial-up, but it’s an outlet for consumers anywhere who are unsatisfied with cable or DSL service. Critics will point out that it’s not very fast, kind of expensive, and includes daily usage caps. But this doesn’t deny HughesNet’s role as competition for cable and DSL.
Internet service provided badly enough by the major ISPs would make satellite broadband a viable competitor. If HughesNet’s investors were confident that they could sign up enough customers, they would make the investments that bring satellite broadband to the economy of scale it needs to be price-, speed-, and usage-competitive.
The spur of competition does not have to pierce the horse’s belly to have its effect.