FCC Considers the Future Course of Net Neutrality

by Matt Klassen on September 18, 2014

Now that the Federal Communications Commission’s public comment period regarding Net Neutrality standards has come to close the often pointless bureaucratic entity is now left with a decision regarding what direction to take its Open Internet initiative.

In fact, rumours abound that based on public feedback the FCC is actually considering a reversal in its previous decision about treating wireless networks differently than wired networks.

“One of the constant themes on the record is how consumers increasingly rely on mobile broadband as an important pathway to access the Internet,” FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler said. “The basic issue that is raised is whether the old assumptions upon which the 2010 rules were based match new realities.”

But why would the FCC ever think the realities of Internet usage in 2010 would be the same in 2014 or beyond? One needs only to walk down the street to see that a growing number of Internet users access the Web via a mobile device, and that Internet users need wireless networks properly regulated now more than ever. As evidence of just how far out of touch regulatory agencies often are, what we’re saying here is that the FCC needed a record 3 million respondents to tell them something they should have figured out by looking out the window: we needed wired internet regulation years ago, we need wireless regulation today.

As mentioned, the FCC officially closed the public comment period on its Open Internet proposal at midnight on Monday, having received a record 3 million comments. Although much of the media attention since May has centred on the FCC’s consideration of controversial “fast and slow lanes” on the Internet, that is preferential paid access, it seems a new issue has come to the fore through this process, the inclusion of wireless networks in any Net Neutrality proposal going forward.

As you’ll recall, the FCC’s Net Neutrality standards have, until now, been focused exclusively in wired Internet, so essentially the hard wired Internet feed you get into your home or business. All of the controversy around the attempt to impose Net Neutrality standards has been on wired service providers, with all talk about wireless regulation excluded since the beginning.

But as we consider the realities of today’s Internet, I would guess the conclusion most of us would quickly come to is that wired internet regulation, while important, now stands largely as an issue of yesterday, something we probably should have solved back in 2010 so that today, in 2014, we would be prepared to truly tackle the regulatory issues of the day, that is, wireless network regulation.

Many technology heavyweights support the decision to treat all Internet access equally, wired or wireline, as notably Microsoft and Google have weighed into the fray, urging the FCC to include wireless regulation in its Net Neutrality framework. In today’s “mobile first” world, Microsoft wrote to the FCC, “there is no question that mobile broadband access services must be subject to the same legal framework as fixed broadband access services.”

While I applaud the FCC for considering the inclusion of wireless regulation in its Net Neutrality proposal, the cold hard reality is that such a revision will make it exponentially more difficult to get any Open Internet legislation passed, as given the difficulties of passing the original version of the bill, adding wireless to the mix will likely be too much for the FCC to handle.

So where does Net Neutrality go from here? Given that the public comment period has just closed it’s really no surprise to see the FCC seriously considering the needs of the people. But unfortunately for the people what comes next is the what I’ll call the ‘lobbyist comment period,’ a time when highly paid stooges work to derail democracy in favour of commercial and industrial interests; a period, lamentably so, that will be far more effective at determining the future course of Net Neutrality than any public comments ever could.

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Written by: Matt Klassen. www.digitcom.ca. Follow TheTelecomBlog.com by: RSS, Twitter, Facebook, or YouTube.

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