Who: The FCC
What: Net Neutrality Ruling
When: Tuesday December 21st 2010
Why: Gee, The same thing we do every night, try to take over the Virtual world!
Well not quite, alas the FCC has voted on rules aimed at protecting freedom on the internet and it staying open. Chairman of the FCC Julius Genachowski rolled out 6 key principles that were voted on and passed, they are:
- Consumers and innovators have the right to know the basic performance characteristics of their internet access and how their network is being managed.
- Consumers and innovators have the right to go where they want, say what they want and prohibits the blocking of lawful content, apps, services and the connection of devices to the network.
- Consumers and innovators have the right to a leveled playing field. No central authority public or private can discriminate in such a way that one idea, application or service is favored over another by prioritizing internet traffic or pay for priority arrangements.
- Broadband providers have the flexibility to manage their networks to deal with congestion, security and other issues as long as it’s reasonable. Valued business model experimentation such as tiered pricing is acceptable.
- Wireless internet transparency for broadband providers, prohibiting the blocking of websites or of certain competitive applications.
- Committing to ongoing vigilance in internet openness, freedom and adoption of these rules by monitoring developments in which may effect internet openness.
Some may argue that this isn’t enough, some may argue that this has gone too far, what Genachowski hopes is that this framework becomes a common ground on the stance of Net Neutrality. Scrutiny comes mainly on the heels of the decision to include the flexibility given to the ISPs to be able to “Manage” their networks and the extra slack given towards the wireless side. I understand both sides of the argument and this honestly is probably one that may never truly be enough for either side. On one hand you have the argument that basically supports the federal appeals court decision, ruled in April of this year in support of Comcast saying that the FCC had no legal authority to punish or sanction Comcast for slowing down BitTorrent traffic on it’s network. The general support on this is that in times in order to provide the best service for everyone some traffic isn’t specifically stopped from being routed but rather delayed mainly during peak network congestion. Comcast specifically stated:
Comcast’s network management practices (1) only affect the protocols that have a demonstrated history of generating excessive burdens on the network; (2) only manage those protocols during periods of heavy network traffic; (3) only manage uploads; (4) only manage uploads when the customer is not simultaneously downloading (i.e., when the customer’s computer is most likely unattended) (“unidirectional sessions” or “unidirectional uploads”); and (5) only delay those protocols until such time as usage drops below an established threshold of simultaneous unidirectional sessions.
Although network management practices must respond to new technological developments and necessarily change over time, Comcast to date has not found it necessary to manage traffic associated with downloads, or bidirectional traffic (i.e., uploads that occur at the same time a customer is downloading). P2P file uploads that are underway before the network management threshold is reached are not interrupted, and neither bidirectional file transfers nor downloads–including new ones–are affected. This action is nothing more than the system saying that it cannot, at that moment, process additional high-resource demands without becoming overwhelmed, just as a traffic ramp control light regulates the entry of additional vehicles onto a freeway during rush hour. One would not claim that the car is “blocked” or “prevented” from entering the freeway; rather, it is briefly delayed, then permitted onto the freeway in its turn while all other traffic is kept moving as expeditiously as possible, thereby ensuring order and averting chaos. This is an appropriate analogy to Comcast’s management of P2P unidirectional uploads.
Now that sounds just fine and dandy but on the side of reason you have question just what and how they consider what traffic to be excessive. What if they deem netflix traffic to be excessive? Will they throttle it? The most important thing is that transparency is there to neuter any discrimination to specific traffic and especially if it’s in a competing market. Netflix traffic alone consumes the largest portion of internet traffic in the U.S during peak evening hours, 8:00 p.m. to 10:00 p.m. Streaming from Netflix users account for about one-fifth or 20% of peak-time traffic doubling anything Google’s Youtube put up. This was in part a reason for why Internet backbone network Level 3 struck a deal with Netflix to store it’s entire streaming content library (more than 20,000 titles) and add 2.9 Tbps of globally available CDN (content delivery network) capacity, which is in addition to the 1.65 Tbps that was deployed in the third quarter of 2010. This is to ease the congestion by having the content cached. There is much debate on that and for now i’ll leave it to be discussed at another time but again we find ourselves back at that fork in the road. Obviously when we have predictions from networking giants such as Cisco, citing Internet traffic will triple by 2014, to 64 exabytes a month adding that by then, more than 90 percent of the traffic will be video, there is a problem happening. The economics of technology, which you know is a factor is leaning out of the ISPs favor. While their internet revenues may grow traffic will be soaring at an alarming rate. The concern is that investment needs (the needs to support that traffic) will far exceed their revenue growth. Yes, thin the ice is, tread carefully, we must.
Given the validity and concern from both sides of the argument you insert the wireless network into the equation and it gets a bit more sticky, from the standpoint that true 4G technology isn’t and hasn’t in most cases been rolled out yet. No phone on the market is using what the ITU specifies as true 4G which is 100 Mbps download speeds for mobile users, and up to 1 gigabit per second for stationary users with strong signals. Recent upgrades either in the works or planned will have us in the 6 -8 Mbps neighborhood. The constraints on our wireless network will more then likely be worse then our wired especially with the 3G and soon 4G tablet, netbook surge and the 15 minuets of fame each smart phone seems to have lately and the demands they add to the network. We are standing up and nearly touching the ceiling, mind your heads.
Which ever side of the aisle you stand on in the above, the real positive is that discussion is taking place. We can only hope cooler more modest heads prevail and it doesn’t get ugly. Simply implying that because a problem hasn’t yet been materialized or come full circle is probably one of the most ignorant stances I’ve seen on Net Neutrality. Taking each incident that has attributed to the Net Neutrality case and simply passing it off as an exception and isolated is irresponsible. Can we seriously air on the side of caution, one such that gives giant telco companies and ISPs a good-will badge of honor? Believe in that and i’ll show you a fool. It’s a kin to saying that because the industry hasn’t done it yet, we can trust that it will never do it in the present or future. Whether you like the FCC ruling or not oversight on the big wigs is something that absolutely should be considered. The big kids that run the playground usually have an agenda, you may or may not like it or agree with it, it’s usually best to keep the gouging in check.
The real issue for me isn’t the 6 rules which passed, it’s whether they’ll do anything or not. You can bet your bottom dollar that there will be future court decisions on these rules. Chairman Genachowski already stated that the FCC doesn’t want to overstep it’s boundaries and overreach by imposing overly restrictive rules and kill the dynamic of a rapidly changing and growing marketplace. In the end regulation is flexible and yes while vague regulation is some of the worst regulation the worst regulation is that of none. So while this isn’t perfect, hopefully it’s a step in the right direction. With republicans taking majority over the house in January we can be assured to hear more of this especially from Texas House of Representative Kay Bailey Hutchison. Where do you stand? Did the FCC do to much? To little?