Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Net neutrality has arrived...

After an exhaustive lobbying effort by all sides (I think there are more than two in this one), the FCC will release rules to safeguard access to the Internet.  This is the clearest short summary I could find of what the rules will do.
The first rule is about transparency. Network operators of both fixed and wireless networks will be required to disclose to consumers, content providers, and device makers information that will be necessary for them to deploy services. In other words, if a broadband network operator is using network management techniques that affect an application or if a wireless broadband network provider doesn't allow a certain type of application, the service provider must provide information about the requirements for its network.
The second Net neutrality rule prohibits the blocking of traffic on the Internet. The rule applies to both fixed wireline broadband network operators, as well as to wireless providers. But the stipulations for each type of network are slightly different.
For wired networks, operators will not be allowed to block any lawful content, services, applications, or devices on their network. For wireless providers, the rule is somewhat limited and only prohibits the blocking of access to Web sites or applications that specifically compete with a carrier's telephony voice or video services.
The blocking rule for wireless and wireline networks also includes allowances for reasonable network management. This means that wireline and wireless broadband providers will be able to reasonably manage their networks during times of congestion to ensure every user can adequately access services.
And finally, the last rule applies only to fixed broadband providers. It prohibits fixed wireline broadband providers from unreasonably discriminating against traffic on their network.  [More]
For rural users who may be getting much more from the Internet than we currently imagine, I think this nobody-is-happy compromise works.

 One key phrase above is "unreasonably discriminating".
The proposal falls short of what some consumer advocates had sought. Although it would prevent wireless carriers from blocking competing voice services on smartphones, it would allow them to charge more for other types of Internet applications, such as video or social networking services.
The rules would prohibit Internet providers from arbitrarily blocking or slowing delivery of online services, but they could strike business deals in which a company might pay extra for faster access to consumers.
The proposal marks a compromise after more than a year of wrangling by the FCC, phone and cable giants, and brand-name Internet firms such as Google and Facebook. Some carriers and high-tech firms say the proposal strikes a good balance between protecting consumers and preserving the ability to compete.
"These rules will increase certainty in the marketplace; spur investment both at the edge and in the core of our broadband networks, and contribute to a 21st century job-creation engine in the United States," Genachowski said in an excerpt of prepared remarks released Monday night.
But some Internet companies and Republican lawmakers say the FCC's new regulations will restrict network operators, making it harder for Internet service providers to invest in faster networks that reach more homes.
Rebecca Arbogast, an investment analyst for Stifel Nicolaus, said that the rules are written so they can be broadly interpreted and that questions remain about the real impact on Internet video. It's unclear whether a company such as Comcast could in effect give its video-on-demand service priority over competitors such as Netflix, YouTube and Amazon by charging them more to transmit high volumes of data, she said. [More]
While much of the fine-print is unclear, I suspect high-bandwidth users will see higher costs, but access to the whole Internet will be protected. The niggling suspicion is more of us could become high-end users as we use the Internet for more than just reading Incoming and it becomes our main channel for entertainment and information.

However, at that point, broadband and wireless providers will be competing for our loyalty, I would imagine and the lines of user-volume would become more vague.

Unless Congress is pushed by heavy industry lobbying to override this ruling legislatively, my initial reaction is getting this issue fixed imperfectly allows us to start working and refining the rules as we see how consumers and industry develop this medium.

So rack up another homely fix for a longstanding complex problem. Is it me or are we seeing a pattern in government lately of getting something done (albeit imperfectly) instead of merely having complaining contests?

Ponder what it might mean if government productivity increased even slightly.

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