On the surface, the Net Neutrality Order passed by the FCC yesterday looks like a good thing. Here is a summary of the summary of rules for consumers (Thanks PCMag.com):
Transparency: ISPs will be required to share information about their activities. Does your ISP actively slow down it’s network at peak times? Is there a cap on usage? Cable companies and service providers will be required to be more upfront about their operations.
No blocking: This rule varies for wired vs. wireless. Basically fixed line providers cannot block any lawful upload or download of content, apps, or charge their providers for delivering traffic to and from their networks. Wireless providers cannot block access to lawful sites or block apps that compete with their own voice or phone services. The rule does not apply to mobile broadband app stores, however. Note: In 2007, Comcast was accused of blocking access to peer to peer file sharing networks like BitTorrent. Comcast denied this, but did admit to delaying access to P2P sites during peak hours.
No unreasonable discrimination: ISPs can manage their networks, but cannot discriminate against specific applications. As PCMag writes: In other words, Comcast could slow down its entire network to handle an influx of users, but it could not cut off a specific, bandwidth-hungry service – like BitTorrent or Netflix or Hulu. The FCC acknowledges that network management is necessary to block harmful things – like malware and child porn – from making its way onto ISP networks. Blocking child porn and spam? Good. Blocking Netflix or BitTorrent because it competes with your own service or eats up bandwidth? Bad.
If a consumer suspects their ISP of violating the rules, they can file a report with the FCC.
What I don’t like
The complete text of the order still isn’t public, but many experts are suggesting that this will lead to a tiered pricing model for ISPs. FCC Commissioner Copps said he was concerned that broadband providers would force consumers to “pay for prioritization” — creating a fast lane on the public Internet for services that pay to have their traffic prioritized over other traffic. All other traffic would be delivered via a slow lane.
Earlier this year, game developers told the FCC they were concerned that large ISPs could fragment the Internet with “pay-for-priority” arrangements, causing economic troubles for the gaming industry similar to those created by mobile access providers.
But the no discrimination rule should protect against those types of abuses, Copps acknowledged.
Unfortunately, Washington can’t keep politics out of the Internet. I could go on and on about conspiracy theories here about politicians wanting to control access to content, and lobbyists working on the behalf of big business for a liberal agenda, but I’ll leave that up to someone else.