More on Yesterday’s Net Neutrality Decision

Internet: Open

Yesterday the FCC voted 3-2 in favour of Title II-based net neutrality rules, a decision which has implications for mobile users, members accessing these forums via their home broadband connection… Internet users in general, really, and far beyond the confines of the USA. I’ve been pouring through the news on this since the vote came down yesterday, and thought I’d share some of the more interesting bits here.

What’s Title II Again?

Title II is about the idea of common carriage, first applied to telephone networks in the FCC’s Communications Act of 1934, and overhauled with the Telecommunications Act of 1996. The idea is pretty simple: a network provider must treat everything on their network equally. The best non-Internet example that I can think of is the explosion of long distance providers here in Canada during the 1990s. And the Internet? Well, you’ve probably seen this fake ISP ad before.

Verizon’s Cheeky Response

As expected, Internet providers in the United States weren’t exactly thrilled with the news. Verizon went so far as to post their official response in Morse code… because common carriage is such an antiquated notion, amirite? Anyone?

Their PDF translation, apparently composed on an olde-tyme typewriter—see what they did there?—opens with the following quote:

Today’s decision by the FCC to encumber broadband Internet services with badly antiquated regulations is a radical step that presages a time of uncertainty for consumers, innovators and investors.

“Times of uncertainty”, you say? As DSL Reports rightly points out, Verizon started all this with their 2010 legal challenge to the FCC.

Are Wireless Networks Different?

I came across an interesting post at Vox.com, making a case for why net neutrality shouldn’t apply to wireless networks:

Technically speaking, residential broadband is relatively simple. Internet access is delivered over a cable that runs to the customer’s home, and customers can rely on a stable amount of bandwidth.

Wireless networks are different. The capacity available at any given time depends on a number of factors, such as a smartphone’s location, the frequencies it is using to communicate, how recently the nearest cell phone tower has been upgraded, and other factors. A customer’s connection can be working perfectly one minute, only to slow to a crawl the next minute as she switches to a cell phone tower that’s in greater demand.

I’m no engineer, but I don’t buy into the premise that residential broadband is “simple”. I know from personal experience that every Internet delivery system has challenges, with congestion and everything else. Far more important for users is that common carriage rules apply to all of the Internet, regardless of how we choose to access it at any given moment.

How the FCC’s decision will affect things like sponsored data and zero-rated content remain to be seen…

Blame Canada

Here’s where this Canadian gets uncharacteristically patriotic, jumping up on the nearest table and waving a large flag aboot. According to The Toronto Star an FCC commissioner met with our own Ben Klass for a briefing on how the Internet is already treated as a utility in this country. Of course, Canadian forum members will be aware that Bell Canada is appealing Ben’s successful net neutrality complaint to our CRTC and, moreover, threatening to hold him responsible for their legal fees. So in that regard our reputation as a digital backwater remains intact. 🙄