Last month the US FCC (Federal Communications Commission) announced plans to enforce net neutrality through new legislative proposals and a couple of weeks ago these proposals took a step closer to adoption, moving into the stage of public input.
The new proposals would force broadband providers to be transparent about the management of their networks and the services they are providing and would stop them from blocking or slowing down certain types of lawful traffic such as P2P. Unsurprisingly the proposals have met with opposition from several American ISPs and support from net neutrality advocates.
- Wired.com: FCC Backs Net Neutrality — And Then Some
- FCC: (PDF Document) Commission Seeks Public Input on Draft Rules to Preserve the Free and Open Internet
- The Register: FCC launches war of net ideologues
So what exactly is net neutrality?
Net neutrality operates under the principle that all Internet traffic is treated equally and all users receive an equal service without restrictions on content, sites or platforms. As technology evolves and more and more bandwidth hungry applications emerge it becomes increasingly difficult for network providers to ensure net neutrality, which is why the FCC has stepped in with plans to enforce this through legislation.
- Wikipedia: Net Neutrality
Unsurprisingly the main opposition of the proposals are the American ISPs who fear they have invested millions in building out their networks only to have their managerial power taken away from them. Bandwidth continues to be expensive and as more and more bandwidth hungry applications are developed, maintaining a level playing field for all will significantly increase costs for the ISPs.
Additionally, the American mobile providers are particularly opposed to the new proposals, arguing that the proposals should not apply to them. They argue that such legislation will discourage innovation and will force them to open up their network to rivals such as Google Voice and Skype.
But the FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski disagrees stating “History’s lesson is clear. Ensuring a robust and open Internet is the best thing we can do to promote investment and innovation”. Many net neutrality advocates agree with him. Long term net neutrality advocate Vint Cerf called the proposals “an important step in ensuring the Internet remains a platform for innovation, economic growth and free expression”.
- BBC News: ‘Open internet’ rules criticised
- telegraph.co.uk: US proposals for net neutrality spark debate
The advantages of net neutrality for consumers are obvious. By providing an equal service for all and not restricting certain types of bandwidth, heavy traffic consumers will have open access to all technologies and content without restrictions or tiered pricing. But is legislation the best way to tackle this?
There are many arguments against the use of legislation as described by Dylan F. Tweney in an article on wired.com. He explains there are three fundamental reasons why legislation will not help this issue:
- Bandwidth is not unlimited and by creating a level playing field we will be opening the networks up to unmanaged congestion which will have a detrimental effect on the service for all.
- Enforcement of the proposals will be difficult. “Comcast may not be able to block Skype traffic altogether, but what’s to prevent the company from slowing it down relative to other traffic it carries? Such preferential “packet shaping” is easy to turn off and on, as network demands ebb and flow” he states.
- It would be better to leave the free market to regulate itself. Adding additional layers of bureaucracy will not help and are more likely to hinder.
What does this mean for the UK?
Whilst Entanet agrees with the fundamental principles of net neutrality and agrees with an open and honest approach to network and traffic management, we believe that it should be the network providers who should decide how best to manage their networks and traffic. It should not be decided by government on a one-size-fit- all approach. If a customer does not like the ISP they are using or the package they are on they are free to move to an alternative provider.
We also have concerns over the idea of net neutrality being led by the US. At present the US is probably the most dominant force in terms of the Internet. Therefore what happens with the FCC’s proposals in America will undoubtedly affect the rest of the world. And it looks like that will be happening sooner rather than later. So the real debate is whether or not the US should set the rules for net neutrality or whether it should be considered on a more global scale.
Ideally of course we would opt for a global discussion, enabling countries such as the UK to have their say. However in reality the most dominant state will set the rules they feel are required for their own country’s objectives and the rest of the world (or at least most of it) will be expected to follow suit. In the UK many of our existing laws (particularly those regarding anti-competitive behaviour) protect against the issues the FCC’s proposals are trying to solve. However, America’s existing legislation is not as thorough and has a history of enforcement problems. If the UK follows suit with similar legislation will we simply be duplicating existing powers, or will it enable us to update existing laws? Doing so may make us better equipped to tackle new issues that technological advancements have brought to the forefront.
Once again it comes down to enforcement. Many recent incidences have highlighted the fact that several existing laws are no longer sufficient to tackle modern day issues, so maybe it is time for an update? If we do it’s our view that we should set these new laws based on our own terms, to tackle our own problems, not on the back of reacting to developments overseas.
To clarify we have no objections to the current proposals set by the FCC and whilst we understand the American ISPs’ concerns regarding the management of their networks, we agree with the FCC that an open and honest approach to network management is the best policy in the long run. Such an approach will arm consumers with the information they need to make an informed decision when choosing a supplier. Our only concern is that the UK will hastily follow suit in an attempt to ‘keep up with America’ and will not fully consider the domestic issues it needs to tackle.
Have your say!
What do you think about the FCC’s proposals? Do you think legislation is the best way forward? Do you think the US should be the ones to get the ball rolling? Let us know your thoughts by leaving us a comment below.
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