One of the things that makes working at an ISP stimulating is the wonderful complexity of the engine that keeps the internet running. This complexity is very well mirrored in the debate surrounding NetNeutrality.
I’m a bit of a mixed up kid when it comes to NetNeutrality. I am at once a consumer, a content provider (this blog plus my non-work website) and a network operator.
Yesterday in the USA the FCC published a set of rules on the subject. A great deal has already been said on the pronouncement, which was based on a 3-2 majority ruling by the committee. I’m not normally big on discussing things going on in the USA but this one is worth a mention.
Here are the basic elements of the ruling:
Rule 1: Transparency
A person engaged in the provision of broadband Internet access service shall publicly disclose accurate information regarding the network management practices, performance, and commercial terms of its broadband Internet access services sufficient for consumers to make informed choices regarding use of such services and for content, application, service, and device providers to develop, market, and maintain Internet offerings.
None of my personas have a problem with this.
Rule 2: No Blocking
A person engaged in the provision of fixed broadband Internet access service, insofar as such person is so engaged, shall not block lawful content, applications, services, or non-harmful devices, subject to reasonable network management.
A person engaged in the provision of mobile broadband Internet access service, insofar as such person is so engaged, shall not block consumers from accessing lawful websites, subject to reasonable network management; nor shall such person block applications that compete with the provider’s voice or video telephony services, subject to reasonable network management.
This is interesting in the light of the debate currently raging in the UK over the blocking of access to porn – the USA is suggesting that this is not appropriate.
Rule 3: No Unreasonable Discrimination
A person engaged in the provision of fixed broadband Internet access service, insofar as such person is so engaged, shall not unreasonably discriminate in transmitting lawful network traffic over a consumer’s broadband Internet access service. Reasonable network management shall not constitute unreasonable discrimination.
This rule is expanded on to say that networks should not be allowed to charge content providers for prioritising the delivery of that content over others’. The consumer and the content provider in me likes this. The network operator might not like it so much but that’s probably just tough luck.
The FCC also says that due to the relative immaturity of mobile networks (my words/simplification) these networks will not have the same constraints applied to them. This has prompted most of the early online reaction.
This is a difficult one. From a consumer/content provider perspective I don’t want mobile broadband to be any different to fixed. The argument from the mobile network operators perspective is that they need to be allowed to fund the investment in additional network capacity by introducing innovative new business models.
If these business models involve charging content providers for priority delivery then I don’t believe that is a good thing. If it means charging end users more money for a better quality service then how can we have a problem with that? Like it or not that is really what has been going on in the world of fixed line broadband ever since it was introduced. Some ISPs are more expensive than others and market the fact that they sell on a better quality service rather than low cost.
When I catch a train and want a seat in a less congested carriage I buy a first class ticket. If I can’t afford the higher priced ticket I either use a different train service operator, travel at a less busy time or put up with the discomfort.
At the end of the day if we as consumers want more bandwidth and this bandwidth costs money to manufacture then we have to pay for it.
There is one final point of interest in the FCC ruling and that relates to what are termed as Specialized Services. In other words the delivery of VoIP and video. The FCC seems to recognise that these services are often delivered using guaranteed bandwidth mechanisms. It is also recognised that the demand for bandwidth is ever on the increase. The FCC specifically says that it is not acceptable for network operators to hold back on investment in bandwidth to the extent that the operator’s own services end up with better quality delivery than those of a third party.
Whilst buried towards the end of the statement this in my mind is just as major an issue as mobile. It is saying that networks “must” expand their capacity to meet demand. Of course a successful network is going to do this anyway but this does seem to smack of unnecessary intervention.
In the UK it will be worth waiting a while to see how the dust settles. The consumer in me must win but this must be on the basis of a reasonable balance being struck. You can read the FCC press statement here.