The FCC Sides With Net Neutrality; So Do I
Those ads were ridiculous back in the day, but the 3G connections and thoroughly Web-enabled smartphones available now -- for instance, Apple's iPhone, Google Android phones like T-Mobile's MyTouch and Sprint's upcoming HTC Hero, and the Palm Pre -- ensure that the wireless Web is no longer a joke. For some people, it's just the Web, however big of a screen they see it through.
(Hook up a smartphone to a computer in a "tethering" setup, or plug in a USB mobile-broadband modem, and you can use as big of a screen as you want.)
That's why I cautiously approve of Federal Communications Commission Chairman Julius Genachowski's move, announced Monday, to craft regulations that would require both wired and wireless Internet providers to carry legal Internet traffic without discrimination.
That concept goes by the phrase "net neutrality," and it's been batted around for the past few years (back in 2006, I devoted parts of my May and June newsletters to critiquing some particularly laughable attacks on net neutrality). But where earlier discussions only led to more talk, this time around Genachowski apparently has the votes to get the FCC started on the rule-making process.
We'll have to pay close attention to just what regulations come out of the FCC, but I think that the right policies can steer wireless carriers' competition in a more customer- and innovation-friendly direction. When carriers can no longer manage their networks by banning certain kinds of uses in fine-print restrictions (ever notice how none of these companies wants to advertise their disapproval of the "wrong" Internet applications?), they'll have to focus their enforcement efforts on individual, bandwidth-hogging users (which would at least place blame appropriately).
I won't be surprised if some also impose stricter or more specific broadband usage caps -- but in that case, I'd expect competitors to respond by touting their more generous bandwidth allocations. Some companies might also react by asking the government to sell more wireless spectrum; I'm fine with that and wouldn't mind seeing expanded spectrum made a part of a net-neutrality deal.
But that's just my own prediction for how this could play out. What's yours? The comments await...
September 25, 2009; 11:44 AM ET
Categories: Policy and politics , Telecom
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