“FCC acts to preserve freedom”? How so and at what cost?

In this week’s press release “FCC Acts to Preserve Internet Freedom and Openness” summarizing Report and Order (FCC 10-201), the FCC has finally weighed in – ambiguously – on the net neutrality argument. Of course for many, the fact that the FCC could even consider this issue was a point of contention; yet the FCC explicitly acknowledged “Internet access services are clearly within the Commission’s jurisdiction”.

The press releases highlighted three rules put forward by the commission.

  1. Transparency, which forces providers to publicly disclose all service parameters.
  2. No blocking, which prevents a provider from blocking lawful content, applications, and services, “subject to reasonable network management”.
  3. No unreasonable discrimination, which prevents a wired provider from discriminating in transmitting lawful Internet traffic, again subject to reasonable network management.

The first thing that caught my attention here was “reasonable network management”, which the FCC further defined as follows.

A network management practice is reasonable if it is appropriate and tailored to achieving a legitimate network management purpose, taking into account the particular network architecture and technology of the broadband Internet access service. Legitimate network management purposes include: ensuring network security and integrity, including by addressing traffic that is harmful to the network; addressing traffic that is unwanted by users (including by premise operators), such as by providing services or capabilities consistent with a user’s choices regarding parental controls or security capabilities; and by reducing or mitigating the effects of congestion on the network.

Without a more granular definition than this, telco’s have much latitude to interpret network management to our disadvantage.

The second thing I noticed from the rules is how #3 excludes wireless. According to The Wall Street Journal said in their assessment of the order, FCC Chairman Julius “Genachowski said mobile carriers faced more congestion issues than other companies and need more leeway to manage their networks. Wireless companies would be prohibited from blocking Internet voice services but they could block access to many other applications, citing congestion issues”.

The WSJ also said reactions to the order among the carriers were mixed, although InfoWorld called this “watered-down version of Net neutrality” a “startlingly poor compromise [that] may do more harm than good for users in the long run“. Harvard’s Scott Bradner says in this week’s Network World that this is part of a “multi-pronged attack that threatens to change [the Internet] irrevocably in ways that may destroy much of the Internet’s potential”.

For a very quick refresher on the basic net neutrality issues, see http://www.theopeninter.net/.