Remember when the FCC laid down the law on net neutrality, and many said that as weak as it was it still likely wouldn’t survive a court challenge? Well that challenge took its usual scenic route through the legal system but has now arrived at long last.
Verizon’s lawsuit against the FCC’s net neutrality rules finally goes before a panel of judges today, claiming the agency overstepped its authority. Yet despite the near total lack of agreement between the two sides on the issue, the regulations the FCC laid down have done a remarkable job of keeping the peace in the short term.
However, the current implementation of net neutrality mostly just kicked the can a bit further down the road. The hope was that a more permanent solution would emerge and gain a consensus, or for the cynical it was that the problem would at least land on someone elses desk. Obama is still in charge of course, but note that the FCC Chairman’s desk does indeed have a new name on it.
But the world of technology evolves more rapidly than regulation, and so today’s world of data is a brand new ballgame. Much of today’s high profile data traffic is delivered over the wireless last mile, which wasn’t even included in net neutrality regs. Yet the fears of both sides (‘our business model will collapse’ versus ‘the death of freedom itself’) haven’t come to fruition there.
I think it is likely that Verizon will gain at least a partial victory here, which will be appealed of course, eventually leading to another big regulatory brawl between the last mile operators and public interest groups. But operationally, perhaps we are beyond the point where either can roll back the clock. Public expectations have been set when it comes to actually restricting data, and pricing plans have evolved to include at least some linkage between traffic and revenue.
Additionally, despite all the consolidation wireless is a more competitive world than wireline, and looks to get more competitive in the years to come. The more of the internet’s traffic that goes over wireless data networks, the less likely it seems that on the wireline side we’re going to need so many special rules to prevent abuse.