Net neutrality: Everybody says it is...
9/27/2009 by: John Oram
Since FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski announced two new principles which support Net neutrality the comments "for" and "against" have been stacking up.
The naysayers are attempting to divert attention from some basic facts: The US has some of the slowest broadband services in the world, limiting our ability to compete in a global environment. The US ranks 28th in the world in average Internet connection speed and is not making significant progress in building a faster network. A report by the Communications Workers of America [CWA] said the average download speed in South Korea is 20.4 Mbps [Megabits per second] - four times faster than the US average of 5.1 mbps.
The US is in 20th position when it comes to household broadband use, well behind countries like South Korea, Singapore, and the Netherlands. Nearly 95 percent of South Korean households have a broadband connection. The number two spot on the list is held by Singapore, which has 88 percent household broadband penetration. The US has a lot of catching up to do to remain competitive with the evolving world.
We took three key points away from Genachowski’s speech: first, he expanded the number of FCC network neutrality principles from four to six; second, he kicked off the process to turn these principles into actual rules; and third, he said he would make all of these principals effective for wireless and wired networks.
Genachowski's speech was a brief executive summary that lacked specificity. He did say that the new principles and eventual rules would be applied on a case by case basis. The loophole there is that the US Congress has never fully funded the FCC staffing budget. So where are the people going to come from to enforce these new rules?
Those in the "against" the new principles group are lead by the two giant US carriers, Verizon and AT&T. They were positioning themselves for a long process of negotiating the specifics in the rule making process. The openness ideas were not turned down completely. They are possibly okay for their wired line data subscribers. However, in effect they made it clear they wanted the government to keep your regulatory hands off our mobile wireless (cash cows). They are quite satisfied that they can slowly roll out innovative offerings and force subscribers to get a new mobile device with each so-called innovation.
The red herring raised by many articles opposing Net neutrality was that the FCC plans to limit the ability of an ISP or carrier to control their own networks, especially when it comes to a subscriber who uses a lot of bandwidth. One article even predicted that FCC's position on Net neutrality may spell the end of unlimited Internet < http://www.wired.com/epicenter/2009/09/fcc-neutrality-mistake/ >. The author went on to list more doomsday scenarios. However, one of the commentors listed seven reasons why the article was wide of the mark when it came to understanding the new principles and their possible implementation.
Genachowski said that carriers would retain the rights to manage their networks and that nothing in the rules would stop carriers from ensuring that "very heavy users do not crowd everyone else out" during peak traffic hours. He also said that service providers could introduce new tiered services, so long as there is enough Internet capacity to allow for open access to the rest of the Internet.
There was little conversation about how the FCC could implement Genachowski’s call for more transparency. He said "greater transparency will give consumers the confidence of knowing that they’re getting the service they’ve paid for, enable innovators to make their offerings work effectively over the Internet, and allow policymakers to ensure that broadband providers are preserving the Internet as a level playing field. It will also help facilitate discussion among all the participants in the Internet ecosystem, which can reduce the need for government involvement in network management disagreements."
Does that mean an ISP's download/upload speed claims would be closer to your actual readings when you test your desktop? Wouldn't that be a welcome "truth in advertising" that is sorely missing today from most ISPs and carriers.
Several articles claimed that the Internet as we know it will become a slow poke. But wait a minute, isn't the US already number 28 when it comes to broadband (download) speeds. Many of the comments from readers of articles talked about the fact they were in rural America where their speeds were less than 1.5 mbps. We are in an urban area and our ADSL download speeds is advertised as being "up to 6mbps.
Our desktop averages about 2.5mbps, measured in California's state capital.
One of the least talked about parts of Genachowski’s speech was his pointed comments about "limited competition among service providers. As American consumers make the shift from dial-up to broadband, their choice of providers has narrowed substantially. I don’t intend that remark as a policy conclusion or criticism -- it is simply a fact about today’s marketplace that we must acknowledge and incorporate into our policy making."
In our urban area, we have several ADSL choices but all of them depend on the AT&T backbone infrastructure. We have a single cable TV provider in our county, Comcast. There are several wireless data providers that are competitive with Comcast cable’s pricing. Yet, none of the offerings regularly exceed the national average of 5.1 mbps, unless you pay an extra fee, or tiered pricing as the FCC chairman called it.
America's Internet pundits will have a lot to discuss over the next months about what is the "real" definition of Net neutrality and how will it be implemented. For most American gamers, getting a faster (optionally priced) service would make them happier.
We recommend you read Genachowski's speech and draw your own conclusions.
FCC, FCC Chairman, Julius Genachowski, Net neutrality, Communications Workers of America, CWA, AT&T, Verizon, Comcast, ISP, network management, Broadband, Wireless, ADSL, cable TV, South Korea, Singapore, Netherlands
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