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Counterpoint: The FCC Just Imprisoned the Internet

Counterpoint: The FCC Just Imprisoned the Internet

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When Lou Frenzel and I come up on different sides of an issue, I sometimes feel like Jane Curtin on “Saturday Night Live” when she was doing the Point-Counterpoint segment with Dan Aykroyd. Take, for instance, Lou’s latest blog, “The FCC Just Imprisoned the Internet.” It was about the Federal Communication Commission’s (FCC) move to turn the Internet, at least at the bottom end, into a regulated environment. Essentially it is looking to apply the Title II rules and regulations of the Communications Act of 1934.

The 3-2 vote was along party lines and this is not the end of the story. Given that the House and Senate are in Republican hands, there will be the usually flurry of speeches and bills to change it—not including the host of lawsuits in the works.

I am not too keen on Lou’s referring to this as Obamacare on the Internet because it is not even close. Likewise, I disagree with the idea that paid prioritization is a no-no. One of the main things that the change should do, although I would not bet on it, is prevent prioritization to the detriment of competitors. This is what I am really worried about if the Internet does not get Title II rules.

Take a service like Netflix or Pandora. Keep in mind that Title II does not prevent them from getting a bigger pipe to the Internet nor for a consumer subscribing to a bigger pipe at their end. The tiered pricing for more bandwidth and even data caps can still exist at both ends of a connection. The thing that an open Internet should provide is a balance for a Netflix or Pandora competitor.

This would not be such an issue if the big ISPs like Comcast, Verizon, AT&T, and Cox did not have services of their own that essentially compete against their customers, since the likes of Netflix and Pandora need a way to connect to the Internet. Yes, I know there are more players involved, but these ISPs are what most people would be familiar with.

The challenges are across the board from advertising to support to data being transported over the pipe. Everyone is looking for an edge, and a minor tweak can have a major impact.

We have already seen things like email scanning from the likes of Yahoo and Google so they can provide “sponsored email.” These kinds of issues are not directly related to the Title II discussion, but they highlight how “transparent” actions can impact the user’s experience.

Another is Verizon’s super cookies. Now this is something related to ISPs because this hack could only be done by an ISP. Essentially it is inserting a cookie into a user’s data stream regardless of how the user’s browser is set up.

The big money is with the big corporations on this and you can easily track what side they are on based on how they make it and where their donations go.

One of the main things that is overlooked is that there are more than two entities involved in this discussion and a lot of Electronic Design readers are a third entity in the mix. The two entities are the consumer and the ISP. The third are companies providing services, although many tend to mix companies like Netflix and Google in with ISPs like Comcast and Verizon because the latter is providing similar services in many cases. For example, Netflix competes head-to-head with the ISP’s streaming video services.

What this third entity wants is a level playing field so they can provide their service without being charged more for a connection or having that connection degraded or even prevented due to competing interests. This issue becomes important as we move toward the nebulous Internet of Things (IoT) because that connection, its reliability, and bandwidth can be key to a company’s success or failure.

I am wary either way because, as always, “Be careful what you wish for. You just might get it.” 

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