Net Neutrality Is Already Here

Oct. 5, 2010
FCC is still expected to pass net neutrality regulation despite the fact we have it now without regulation.

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The saga of net neutrality continues as the Federal Communications Commission and Congress try to figure out whether to regulate the Internet and how. Congress attempted to pass legislation for net neutrality before going home to their districts to campaign for November’s elections, but the Republicans were uniformly against it and there wasn’t enough support among the Democrats to produce a law.

The net neutrality ball is back in the FCC’s court. However, the FCC recently halted its efforts to come up with a set of regulations that would ensure real net neutrality. So, we don’t know when there will be any new net neutrality activity.

With net neutrality, the Internet would be fully open to any and all Web traffic. There would be no prioritization, nor would Internet service providers (ISPs) be able to delay or block any content. That sounds pretty reasonable, doesn’t it? In fact, we have it already. So why should we regulate something we already have? Can you name any ISP that is delaying, blocking or prioritizing traffic now? I certainly can’t.

The goal, of course, is to head off the possibility that such control could happen. But I suspect that none of the ISPs really want to block or delay anything. They want all the high-speed broadband business they can get. The only reason they might block or delay anything is the limits of their own systems. In traffic overload situations, like the forecasted growth in video over the Internet, some systems might get overwhelmed at times. The broadband suppliers are aware of this coming tidal wave, so they’re bulking up their infrastructures to handle it.

The most vulnerable networks are the wireless ones. Most aren’t yet big enough or fast enough for some services. But even those systems are gradually being upgraded to handle the load. It takes a while for the backhaul systems to come up to par, but that’s happening right now. And with Long-Term Evolution (LTE) 4G coming online next year, the systems should be mostly ready for the data glut expected. Then again, for wireless systems it all depends on where you live. But eventually even the boonies will have great service thanks to the expected activity to implement the National Broadband Plan in the coming years.

I’ve given up on trying to predict what will happen, no matter how closely I’ve been following the issue. However, I can say with some certainty that the possibility of zero regulation is no longer an option. We will get some net neutrality regulation by the FCC in the coming months.

As always, lurking and unintended consequences may hurt the industry, which continues to thrive and provide needed services today without regulation. For example, we may see higher prices for everyone. Regulations often hurt as much as they might help. Hopefully, the FCC will go lightly on the industry with minimal restrictions.

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