Tuesday, September 29, 2009

The FCC's Heavy Hand? or Hand’s Off?

Click Here for Washington Post Article

The debate and the battle for Net Neutrality is heating up.  Resources are being marshaled.  Rhetoric is spinning. twitter Tweeters are, well you know, Tweeting.  

In my opinion, this is a straightforward, if not simple concept, called Net Neutrality. If you click on the Net Neutrality link, you will find Wikipedia’s definition:

“Network neutrality (also net neutrality, Internet neutrality) is a principle proposed for residential broadband networks and potentially for all networks. A neutral broadband network is one that is free of restrictions on content, sites, or platforms, on the kinds of equipment that may be attached, and on the modes of communication allowed, as well as one where communication is not unreasonably degraded by other communication streams.”

Essentially it is a PROPOSAL that ISPs do not make performance or destination decisions based upon content or application.  Why is this important to both consumers and providers alike?  Because as a consumer, you pay a fee for unbridled or unfettered access (not without some legal governance) to receive or transmit content, to and from whatever site(s) & applications that you wish, based upon the data plan that you have subscribed to (To be Fair, it is NOT Free). 

I have written on this topic before ( Internet Network Neutrality – You Should Know the Basics, FCC Chairman To Smack Down ISPs That Throttle DataNet Neutrality? AT&T Asks for Curbs on Google ).

Imagine that you have signed up for some type of Internet Phone Service that of course uses your home or business internet access.  Maybe you did not consider or was not impressed with the competing offer that your ISP has made for a similar type of service.  What if the ISP were to (due to compelling competitive pressures) place their thumb on the scale and slow down or inhibit in some way your service, while theirs (the ISP), gets full network access? Hmmmm.  Would it be OK if Verizon or AT&T degraded in some way your cell phone access or 3rd party application because you didn’t purchase that competing product from them?  again, Hmmmm. verizon

Mr. Genachowski (FCC Chairman) explains it this way: ISPs "cannot block or degrade lawful traffic over their networks, or pick winners by favoring some content or applications over others in the connection to subscribers' homes." In short, att logo ISPs, which have poured billions of dollars into building infrastructure, would have little control -- if any -- over the kinds of information and technology flowing through their pipes.

This is a good summation from the FCC Chairman.  Why would we want the ISPs to operate without any reasonable governance?  I am certainly NOT in favor of bigger government and we also have a heavy load of laws already on the books.       

Nonetheless, ISPs should not be in a position, or allowed to make content-based or application-based decisions that are within the traffic payload.

This is not about the FCC telling Comcast comcast or Time-Warner how to run their businesses.  We don’t want government to do that.  To be fair to the providers, they have spent fortunes on building and maintaining their technology infrastructures. 

Rich-content services from Smartphones, Blackberrys and iPhones are surely stretching the capacity of each carriers’ internal network.  I can personally relate to this as I have been building and managing corporate-based infrastructures for many years. ( My Web Site Profile ) There is an old saying for this: “Cost of Doing Business”.  The investments that the providers have made are expected to turn a profit because they are charging subscribers for their services.  The services should be offered equally and have equal expectation of performance in line with the subscription plan.

The detractors (author of the Washington Post Editorial, see Link above) would have you believe that this is about government meddling into the affairs of of corporate America.  Not so, I say.

But unneeded regulation could still interfere with their ability to manage bandwidth-hogging applications that can hamper service, especially during fcclogopeak times.

Again, the providers will need to manage the capacity of their networks as consumers acquire devices like data hungry iPhones (maybe that's why Verizon doesn’t offer it??)

Mr. Genachowski claims that the FCC "will do as much as we need to do, and no more, to ensure that the Internet remains an unfettered platform for competition, creativity and entrepreneurial activity."

“Unfettered” access (commensurate with a paid subscriber plan) is the goal that we should all seek.  The providers made the investments and should expect to see a return.  The service is not free as this is a subscriber service and the providers are in a business to make money for their owners and shareholders.  That concept should not get in front providing equal access.  The internet can be a wonderful resource as it has matured from some amazing innovations.  We shouldn’t be surprised that at this juncture, people actually want to use the internet.  Let’s make sure we keep it on a level playing field.

Si tu id aeficas, ei venient. Ager somnia

(If you build it, they will come)


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