The Six Rules of Net Neutrality

In describing Net Neutrality, Wikipedia says “A neutral broadband network is one that is free of restrictions on content, sites, or platforms, on the kinds of equipment that may be attached, and on the modes of communication allowed”. It has long been a subject of debate. I say debate only because many Internet Service Providers appear to think that, since the road to the net is paved with their pipes, that they control it’s use. While I feel that in a business the employer who owns the computers, network & Internet connections, has the full right, and often responsibility, to prevent unwanted internet use. For personal use, I believe the consumer should have access to any technology or legal content they want. Most consumers don’t see this debate. Most consumers use the Internet and never hit any boundaries. If you fall into that category let me explain…

Certain services provided to consumers via the Internet conflict with most ISP’s business models. A cable company that provides television service to your home has every interest in preventing you from watching television, via your web browser, on sites such as Hulu. They may even have issues with YouTube. A phone company that provides DSL service may find the use of Vonage, Skype or other VoIP services problematic. They after all don’t want you as just a broadband Internet customer. They want to keep you as a telephone or cable customer. They sell services, and if they end up in a position of being merely an access provider they have some serious restructuring to do. If these companies were allowed to limit what consumers can access it would be bad for the consumer, innovation, economic growth and the free market. The Internet should be neutral, with all traffic treated equal. Period.

Many have assumed that the big business of telecommunications had such a strong lobby in Washington that net neutrality was in danger. Then it happened…

This week, the chairman of the FCC, Julius Genachowski, proposed rules to protect net neutrality. Yep, An FCC chairman that not only proposes important changes, but actually sounds very committed to them. There’s even the new site OpenInternet.gov, where you can read Mr. Genachowski’s speech, see his video and participate in the discussion. A government site in BETA? That’s change right there.

Basically there are 6 rules, if I read this right. Four of them are currently “Internet principles” used by the FCC, on a case-by-case basis, to guide their enforcement of communication laws. The chairman has proposed that these principles be adopted as commission rules. These are big. He summarized the four as:

Network operators cannot prevent users from accessing the lawful Internet content, applications, and services of their choice, nor can they prohibit users from attaching non-harmful devices to the network.

The fifth and sixth principles deal with non-discrimination and transparency. They state that broadband providers cannot discriminate against particular Internet content or applications and require those providers to be transparent about their network management. Wow.

Keep in mind that this is a government agency, and these are proposals. There is a long way to go on this front. Figuring I was done writing this, I just took a break to grab some microwave taquitos and watch some CNN. What do I see on the bottom crawler? “Comcast fires back at net neutrality proposals”. Knew that was coming. Comcast, the cable company that the FCC was said to be investigating based on their reported filtering of BitTorrent, has an opinion on net neutrality? I followed the link on CNNMoney.com to the Comcast blog where David L. Cohen, Executive Vice President, in broadband wrote his response. In the post entitled “Does the Internet Need More Regulation? FCC to Decide” he states:

The Internet in America has been a phenomenal success that has spawned technological and business innovation unmatched anywhere in the world. So it’s still fair to ask whether increased regulation of the Internet is a solution in search of a problem.

Say what? Like regulation is not needed simply because a technology is successful or creates innovation? Companies like Comcast should not be left to decide if filtering legitimate internet usage is considered reasonable network management. Electricity was a success and spawned innovation but it’s regulated.

Ok, I will never finish this post. My MacRumors RSS feed just came through with a post citing a CNET report. Basically the wireless carriers are worried these new principles will be applied to them. They accept these principles for their wired networks but feel that the wireless arena is too competitive. Holy crap. So, if wireless carriers had to follow the same rules it suddenly becomes a problem? The argument is based on the limited bandwidth issues in the wireless world. Unlike wired infrastructure, where you can deploy resources based on knowing a users location, the wireless world has less predicability. A single site can have the peak usage change very suddenly, with many users wanting access at the same time. I will agree with that. A single site has more limitations, for now. But the growth in wireless is here and not going away. It will soon be the main way consumers access the net. For that reason the industry should be allowed to know in advance what rules will exist so they can design the infrastructure to support it. And, now they know. We want, and the country is best served, by a neutral Internet. Could it be that the wireless companies are afraid of not being allowed to prohibit non-harmful devices on their network? Could that principle be used to force Verizon to allow the iPhone on their network?

Here’s the thing, business is business. When a business’ interests conflict with the public good we, as a people, establish controls. We, through our government, regulate the industry. Utility industries are already subject to a vast set of these controls. Utility companies require approval for rate increases, radio and wireless frequencies are licensed and water quality is monitored. It is my opinion that the Internet is a utility. It is the bread and butter of learning. Every child, while under parental supervision, should have access to the net. The decision to allow, or disallow, content should be based on legal or parental guidelines and not corporate ones. To find out more, Engadget has a nice collection of links to the video, text and other related posts.

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