What does a centuries-old whiskey company have to do with the Internet?
A lot, it turns out. You don't often see bourbon makers rubbing elbows with telecom regulators, but Jim Beam made an exception this week when it sent a letter to the Federal Communications Commission arguing that the agency needs to ensure that high-speed Internet remains plentiful, competitive and cheap.
"In our 200 years in operation, Jim Beam has learned a thing or two about the three 'b's,' bourbon, brands and business," the company wrote in a letter to the FCC.
Now the company says it's adding a fourth "B" to the list: Broadband. From Jim Beam's Illinois headquarters to its Kentucky distilleries and restaurants, high-speed Internet is integral to the company's business. It uses smaller Internet providers in many of these facilities that might be threatened by larger carriers seeking to edge out the competition, Jim Beam says. So the company is pressing the FCC to make broadband competition a priority.
Jim Beam's letter to the FCC continues:
Broadband plays a role in supplying ingredients for production, orders, stocking, and shipping. At our headquarters we have staffing, hiring, accounting and financial management needs. But we also rely on heavy bandwidth to review large art and video concept files, which form the core of our advertising campaigns. We also require seamless voice and video conferencing services to coordinate with our coworkers and partners in France and Japan.
The competitive networks that help power Jim Beam are carefully selected and curated to fit our needs. The technology transition, moving networks from traditional TDM based platforms to advanced IP and fiber connections will be of benefit to our business and our community if equivalent access for competition is maintained.
We've written a bit before about the transition Jim Beam references. The nation is currently shifting away from old, copper-wire networks toward next-generation, high-speed fiber optic networks that can handle voice calls as just another kind of data — similar to the voice chats you might have on Google Hangouts or on Skype. In general, fiber is the future: It can handle download speeds of up to 1 gigabit per second, which is around 100 times faster than the current national average.
What Jim Beam is hinting at here, though it doesn't say it explicitly, is that large Internet providers stand to benefit a great deal from this transition, while smaller carriers could get left behind or squeezed out. And if that happens, it could hurt longstanding American brands like Jim Beam.
The chairman of the FCC, Tom Wheeler, has previously argued that there's a lack of meaningful competition in high-speed Internet, saying much of the country is dominated by a "duopoly" that gives people few choices.
Read the full letter here.