Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Moving in the right direction...

I think. The FCC has taken a surprisingly strong stand for open networks (or net neutrality) that while clearly important to the communications business, has real implications for rural America as well.
In addition to making sure that network operators cannot prevent users from accessing lawful Internet content, applications, and services of their choice, or attaching unharmful devices to the network, Genachowski wants to add two more rules.
The first would prevent Internet access providers from discriminating against particular Internet content or applications, while allowing for reasonable network management. The second principle would ensure that Internet access providers are transparent about the network management practices they implement.
Broadband providers such as AT&T, Comcast, and Verizon Communications have opposed regulation or new laws that would dictate how they could run their networks. Up until this point, the Internet has been free of any regulation. And these companies would like to keep it that way.
That said, the nation's two biggest phone companies, AT&T and Verizon, have accepted the principles outlined by the FCC, when it comes to their wired broadband networks. Even though they don't think additional regulation is needed, they have agreed in principle with keeping their broadband networks open.
But the regulation that Genachowski is proposing will not apply to just wireline broadband networks, such as DSL and cable modem service. It will also apply to wireless services. And this is where the major phone companies will likely focus their opposition to the FCC's plans for new regulation.[More]

Since we here in the sticks will never have fiber optic cable strung to our doors, the provision for open wireless is crucial, IMHO.  It is also odd in my thinking that the open networks of Europe seem to be something that cannot be duplicated here.  Since our dependence on wireless for truly high-speed broadband is nearly 100%, this proposed ruling could do more to raise the level of service in rural America than even the government billions, or at the least, make it more comparable to what urban citizens enjoy. Maybe we would have provider choices, for example.

And why not separate buying phones/netbooks/etc. from the service?  Why shouldn't I be able to use an iPhone on Verizon? 
 Long and rigorous testing? Puleeze. The real problem with Verizon, and to a lesser extent all the rest of the U.S. carriers, is that of a dumb pipe thinking it's smart. Verizon wouldn't give up enough of their shackles and handcuffs; they love to nickel and dime their customers by crippling devices and forcing people to their own crapola media and other "solutions." That's why BlackBerry's Storm, among it's other problems, doesn't have WiFi. That's why Verizon doesn't have a good phone. Early on in iPhone's development, Steve Jobs probably talked to Verizon for about 30 seconds before concluding they simply were not capable of letting go enough to carry his revolution. They probably demanded upfront that WiFi be removed and music and video sales go through whatever POS "service(s)" they offer. By the way, of course Verizon's network gets the best marks (on a scale of that tops out at mediocre-at-best) in large part because they have no devices that use any real amounts of data, so there's no real load on their network. Put 10+ million data-hungry Apple iPhones on Verizon and watch their mediocre quality scores plummet. [More]
 These proposed rules would seem to make the market freer, which is the larger question here, I think. In fairness, I think it likely implementation of the rules would end the all-you-can-eat pricing for Internet service.
First is that bandwidth is not, in fact, unlimited, especially in the wireless world. One reason ISPs are averse to neutrality regulation, they say, is that they need the flexibility to ban or mitigate high-bandwidth uses of their network, like BitTorrent and Hulu.com, which would otherwise run amok. Take away their ability to prioritize traffic, the ISPs say, and overall service will suffer.
“As long as there have been networks, people have had to engineer them to ensure that congestion doesn’t occur,” Carnegie Mellon professor and telecom expert David Farber said Monday (he’s the co-author of a cautious anti-net neutrality opinion piece published in 2007). Farber is especially concerned about the impact of the FCC’s position on wireless networks, where bandwidth is already very limited. “When you’re operating that close to capacity, you have to do a very tricky job of managing your spectrum. If you have unconstrained loads being dumped on you, something’s going to have to give.”
Case in point: AT&T has repeatedly stumbled in its ability to provide 3G wireless capacity, thanks to the unexpected popularity of the iPhone. Those difficulties lend credence to AT&T’s (and Apple’s) reluctance to allow apps like Skype and Slingplayer unfettered access to the 3G network: If the network can barely keep up with ordinary demand, just imagine what would happen if we were all live-streaming the Emmy Awards over our iPhones at the same time.
Take away ISPs’ ability to shape or restrict traffic, and you’ll see many carriers running into AT&T-like capacity problems. Their response will almost certainly be to make consumers pay for what they’re actually using. Want to BitTorrent all 6.7GB of the uncompressed Beatles catalog via 3G? Fine, but you’ll have to pay for the bandwidth you’re taking away from your neighbor. [More]

Unlike the author, I think this is more feature than bug.  It would link heavy usage with heavy cost - a

reasonable market action. In the long run, it might mean typically light-using households get a bargain, or cause a raft of new software to monitor and exploit light usage times for massive downloads, just as smart grids do for electricity.  Regardless, I have become highly skeptical of any industry cries of the End of the World if Rule X is implemented.

For those who oppose the rulings based on knee-jerk reaction to any government intervention in markets, I would remind them our wireless system has grown up virtually unfettered by regulation, and compared to countries like Germany and South Korea, we have one of the most embarrassingly fragmented and inefficient systems in the world. The tragedy of the commons applies in a different way here.