As we enter this holiday season, I took some time this week to reflect on this past year here at theTelecomblog and I was surprised to find that the one story that received most of my attention has been the ongoing debacle surrounding the Federal Communication Commission’s (FCC) proposed Net Neutrality standards. For several years now the FCC has been fighting with Internet providers across the country over rules to regulate pricing, broadband availability, and corporate responsibility in providing what is quickly becoming an integral public service.
But as anyone who has followed this ongoing saga knows, the fight has not been easy, as every step forward the FCC has attempted to make has come under fire from other governmental bodies and interested parties from the private sector, both parties who wish to maintain the status quo.
Now, finally with the FCC set to officially vote on rules designed to promote a nationwide open Internet, perhaps the fight has finally found some much needed resolution… or perhaps the vote will simply create fodder for the next round of arguments.
It was earlier this year that FCC chairman Julius Genachowski first unveiled his proposed standards for an open Internet. While most communications companies impacted by the proposed Net Neutrality rules were able to endorse most of the original proposal, two major factors have continued to drive this debate.
First, there was an issue of language, as broadband providers were concerned that the way the original Net Neutrality proposal was written would prohibit them from managing their networks as they saw fit and would not allow them to charge different prices for varying levels of service.
Second, there was the issue of wireless broadband networks, which interested companies wanted to remain exempt from this particular proposal, meaning that whatever pricing and competition controls the FCC initiated would not affect the various wireless network providers across the country.
The new proposal, which the FCC will vote on later this month, breaks down like this: For one, it will allow the country’s broadband providers to continue to impose usage-based tiered pricing, so that customers will continue to pay for the amount of bandwidth that they actually use.
Further, Genachowski hinted that the FCC will also allow a limited public/private Internet segregation, meaning that providers will be able to offer specialized high-quality service to customers willing to pay for it rather than force those customers to use the public Internet. The only caveat to this public/private distinction, however, is that broadband providers will be forced to justify why their specialized services require dedicated bandwidth instead of using the public Internet.
In regards to bandwidth discrimination, a topic that one might say spawned this ongoing Net Neutrality saga, the FCC has remained firm; broadband companies will not legally be able to discriminate against traffic on the public Internet in favour of their own premium services.
Regarding the inclusion or exclusion of the wireless broadband networks, the FCC has seemingly taken to heart some of the complaints levied against the FCC’s previous intention of excluding wireless from its Net Neutrality plans. While wireless networks will still be expected to adhere to the same non-discrimination rules, there will be more flexibility for network management—i.e. limited wireless throttling will still be allowed.
So will this proposal satiate both sides of this ongoing dispute? Don’t count on it, as lobbyists and proponents of both sides of the Net Neutrality debate are already voicing their displeasure over both things included and things excluded. But in the end, I have to say, just vote on something, get something into writing, and lets all work from there.