The debate for Net Neutrality is nearing an end with the Federal Communications Commission or FCC. Scheduled for a vote on February 26, 2015, the FCC will finally weigh in on what will be a landmark ruling and will have a huge impact on both carriers and consumers. This decision will have an impact on both wired Internet Service Providers or ISPs and Wireless data providers such as Verizon and AT&T.
At stake is how providers will be able to treat internet traffic. The providers want to make what they call paid peering arrangements. This allows the providers, both wired and wireless, to request that services such as Netflix pay to ensure that their product or website receives faster service. Netflix and other companies have equated this practice to a sort of extortion. Either pay to ensure faster and more reliable connection from your site to your customer or you could see service hang-ups and poor signal quality. Smaller internet companies and Net Neutrality advocates argue that new services or innovations with little to no money to pay providers, would be swallowed by larger companies such as Netflix and that treating some information as more important than other information will lead to slow innovation, ideas, and will not allow the smaller guys the chance to compete. Since this would stifle competition, the consumer will suffer. Providers argue that the added money will allow them to innovate better and faster structures that will promote innovation by providing new services to the consumer.
But according to an article in the Wall St. Journal (source link below), FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler is set change broadband carrier classification which would effectively ban providers from favoring one site over another. The Chairman wants to classify carriers under Title II which would make them public utilities. This has huge implications for providers especially wireless providers that bring content to our Android devices.
This classification includes wireless broadband carriers such as Verizon and AT&T. Wireless was not originally part of Net Neutrality rulings. Many wireless carriers have made their disdain known when it comes to classifying the wireless data structure as a utility. Though in a letter to the FCC, Sprint broke away from the flock to state that as long as the FCC gave a “light touch” to Title II, that it would not hinder Sprint’s ability to provide service to it’s customers. They contend that competition, not regulation is the way to handle mobile services and that any Net Neutrality regulations take into count the unique challenges that face mobile carriers and that there needs to be an understanding that mobile carriers need flexibility in order to differentiate themselves. Verizon CFO Francis Shammo also has stated that reclassification would not hinder investment in the wireless networks.
While the decision by FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler has not been published and is certainly subject to change, it could be seen as a victory for Net Neutrality advocates. The Chairman still has to circulate the proposed rules to other Commissioners. It is no doubt that this news will cause a feeding frenzy among lobbyists, especially from carrier providers, in the weeks to come leading up to the February 26 vote. We can only hope that all parties involved keep the consumer at the forefront of the debate and that they will ensure that reliable data will be available to all customers and that services and innovation will not suffer. It is a hard balance, one that the FCC will hopefully find a solution to that everyone can live with.