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What does the FCC's net neutrality vote mean?

Matt Hamblen | Feb. 27, 2015
Net neutrality has been debated for a decade, but the Federal Communications Commission's historic vote on Thursday signals only the beginning of further battles and likely lawsuits.

A large number of Internet providers, including some small municipal broadband authorities, have argued that they already adhere to open Internet rules, making the new FCC rules unnecessary.

"There's not a shred of evidence that this [vote] is necessary," O'Reilly said. Meanwhile, Pai said that both the BitTorrent and Vonage VoIP infringement cases happened years ago and did not constitute much harm, especially in light of the proliferation of Internet services in recent years.

That's the same position that Verizon and other service providers have taken.

"What has been and will remain constant before, during and after the existence of any regulations is Verizon's commitment to an open Internet that provides consumers with competitive broadband choices and Internet access when, where and how they want," said Michael Glover, Verizon senior vice president for public policy.

Questions over FCC's interconnection oversight

One area of the new rules that is ripe for attack will be how the FCC deals with heavy traffic on public networks. The FCC will now prohibit paid prioritization for traffic, as in a case where an Internet provider allows, for a fee, an edge provider or other company to have a fast lane for its fat data video service. While fast lanes are out, the FCC will still allow an Internet provider to conduct "reasonable network management" that recognizes the need for broadband providers to manage the technical and engineering aspects of their networks.

(Of note: All of the FCC's Title II oversight applies to public Internet services and not data services that use private pipes, such as VoIP from a cable service or a dedicated heart-monitoring service. However, the FCC will still keep tabs on these kinds of services through new transparency rules on Internet providers to make sure such services don't undermine Open Internet rules.)

Some Internet providers and other businesses have said that prohibiting paid prioritization while still allowing reasonable network management will create a murky area for the FCC in an era with new technology such as Software Defined Networks (SDNs). For example, what if an Internet provider creates an SDN over a fiber cable normally used for the public Internet and then charges an edge provider a fee for using that fast lane SDN?

As a result of the FCC rules, some analysts predict that Internet providers will be forced to create a profusion of private fast-lane networks of all varieties for their customers that are willing to pay a premium to push out fat content, especially byte-rich video, such as the real-time holographic video now on the technology horizon.

Private networks and reserved private pipes are already a reality, of course, but there are many quasi-public-private networks where a conflict is expected to arise.


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