FCC Votes to Maybe But Not Really Perhaps Allow Fast Lanes

May 15th, 2014 by · 20 Comments

So the FCC went ahead and voted to consider its chairman Tom Wheeler’s new net neutrality framework. But about the only thing anyone can agree on about it is that we’re going to be arguing about it for the foreseeable future.  

Does it propose to authorize commercially feasible fast lanes or paid prioritization or whatever? As far as I can tell nobody is exactly sure what any of it means, because the terms are so loosely defined. Wheeler says nothing in there authorizes anything of the sort, while on the other hand it seems to say it might be legal.

But perhaps we can read between a few lines:

If the network operator slowed the speed below that which the consumer bought it would be commercially unreasonable and therefore prohibited.  If a network operator blocked access to lawful content it would violate our no-blocking rule and be commercially unreasonable and therefore be doubly prohibited.

When content provided by a firm such as Netflix reaches a network provider it would be commercially unreasonable to charge the content provider to use that bandwidth for which the consumer had already paid, and therefore prohibited. When a consumer purchases specified network capacity from an Internet provider, he or she is buying open capacity, not capacity a network provider can prioritize for their own purposes.

Did you catch that?  Think about it for a second.  If a network operator explicitly sells a 50Mbps pipe to the consumer, he has to supply all of it and not interfere with it.  BUT, if someone like Apple were to buy an extra 100Mbps to that consumer, the consumer wouldn’t be denied anything he bought and nobody would be paying twice for the same bandwidth.  Get it?  It’s not a fast lane created by paid prioritization, it’s *extra capacity* and therefore perhaps NOT prohibited by this logic at all.  I think I just sprained my left brain.

The proceedings were apparently disrupted a few times by protestors. I suspect that it’s only going to get messier from here.  It’s as if this whole proposal were designed to create enough chaos to make the next proposal (whatever it is) seem sane and well thought out.

Categories: Government Regulations · Internet Traffic

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20 Comments So Far


  • JPW? says:

    What Comcast and the other unnamed ISPs from Level3′s naughty list are doing is already violating at least the spirit of those rules as written.

    Maybe choking other ASes at the IXP is a loophole they can continue to use to twist arms. I don’t really have a problem with the rules as written, providing there are no loopholes for creating slow lanes. I have a hard time imagining that there are not given all the hundreds of thousands Tom Wheeler paid to get into the FCC.

    • JPW? says:

      Answered my own question. When asked about Peering Wheeler said “That is a different matter that is better addressed separately”
      Peering is a pretty large subject, but degrading peering connections to deliberately affect customer service is not a different matter.

  • Curious says:

    What would happen if they were forced to live with the advertised (contracted) “speed” and actually deliver it 24x7x365? No more “up to” product/service descriptions which allows them an out.
    Is this just a consumer issue? Don’t businesses get SLA to cover this issue?
    If instead of “up to” it was an actual contracted price, wouldn’t that be good for the broadband industry as a whole?

    • Avatar of mhammett mhammett says:

      A 50 meg circuit that is a guaranteed 50 megs and an SLA costs 20 times as much as residential broadband at 50 megs.

      Not gonna happen.

      • Curious says:

        questions were about 1/2 facetious, but you nailed one of the points, right?
        1) You get what you pay for, and
        2) Their network couldn’t support guaranteed high-speed circuits (in there present state) so they “market” to the bare minimum

        • Avatar of mhammett mhammett says:

          Almost all networks everywhere are oversubscribed and would utterly fail if everyone used them to their promised capabilities at one time.

  • Dean Vernon Wormer says:

    I love the term “doubly prohibited.” Do violators end up on double secret probation?

    I read the ISPs were starting a new association called Delta House.

  • Solution Seeks Problem for LTR says:

    Don’t overthink this.

    Network access providers (cable, FTTH, LTE) sell *Internet* bandwidth to consumers.

    Using the same infrastructure, they also sell *non-Internet* network applications. Some of those applications employ IP technology (without being defined as *Internet* per se).

    The ability to sell access to non-Internet bandwidth shouldn’t be prohibited because it happens to use IP technology. It could lead to new apps like Kindle WhisperNet. Why not NFLnet, AppleNet, OprahNet? It might catch on, and it might fail (like walled gardens of the 90s, e.g. Compuserve). Either way, continued demand for *Internet* bandwidth is likely to provide network access providers plenty of motivation to offer a general purpose product that doesn’t interfere with content delivery.

    • Nope says:

      I think you’re overthinking this. Network neutrality has gotten us this far. I have little confidence that unregulated oligopolies will take us further.

  • Carl M says:

    Let the (free) market decide. Regulations only lead to future unintended consequences – ISPs and other last-mile providers will look for (and figure out) ways to circumvent these ambiguous new rules. Does anyone really believe that the FCC can give us a better internet?

    Again, let the market decide.

    • Avatar of mhammett mhammett says:

      Those whiners that don’t actually know how the Internet works sure do.

    • JPW? says:

      US Telecom is not a free market. These networks are built on massive government subsidies and regulation that keeps competition tepid and discourages entry into the market. The flip side of that coin is that the network should serve it’s customers, not use them as leverage to squeeze other networks for cash.

      • Anonymous says:

        Actually, what truly discourages entry are franchise agreement, controlled by municipal and (sometimes) state government.

        When a city takes in franchise fee revenue from a Cable MSO (e.g. Comacast), who really is financially motivated?

        To get a franchise agreement with an urban city, that would involve laying new infrastructure to everyone. Not something any ordinary ISP has the capital readily available to accomplish. It just means the existing franchise operator got there first and is utilizing an already existing infrastructure, well paid for several times over.

        That, to me, seems like the biggest hurdle for any random (other than incumbents) ISP to start FTTH deployments.

        Not all fiber networks in the US are propped up by government subsidies. It’s mainly the incumbents, who have taken in USF and done little to nothing with it.

        • Nope says:

          If only the government would get out of the way and let would-be upstart competitors compete with local duopolies. Then, the only thing standing between the status quo and free market bliss (redundant, I know) would be ten years and hundreds of billions of dollars of capital. Let Capitalism Ring!

          • Avatar of mhammett mhammett says:

            Time, money and getting the consumer to want something other than the duopoly. I had a potential customer building a high-end car facility. AT&T and Comcast (the incumbents) wouldn’t service his new lcoation. He didn’t want my service because I wasn’t one of the big guys. I would build to him. The others wouldn’t. He passed.

  • Avatar of PB PB says:

    I saw an interesting YouTube video from Vi Hart about Net Neutrality. She makes an interesting comparison and shares some contact info at the end. While there are some details I might debate I really like the perspective presented….
    - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NAxMyTwmu_M

    • Cost Causation Lover says:

      Great video!!

    • Avatar of mhammett mhammett says:

      I am still watching the video, but thus far, it isn’t a good metaphor. In this instance, the book companies are directly paying the shipping company. The customer isn’t paying the shipping company. If that model were applied to the Internet, you would be paying NetFlix and NetFlix would pay Comcast to deliver your show.

      If NetFlix was able to hold out longer, Comcast would have eventually had to cave, whether through customer complaints or lost business. Comcast was just more resilient than NetFlix. You are able no change to a different shipping company (ISP), but the consumer has an aversion to independent ISPs that provide quality services. Weird, I know. There was no upside for Comcast in improving service until the point where customers left. There was no additional money for them to make, only money to avoid losing.

      There is competition out there, but consumers default to cable, then the telco. They usually don’t want an independent. It’s not easy to build and run an ISP, but the hardest part is prying customers away from Comcast. Most people do have alternatives available to them, they just don’t take them. The alternatives have been dwindling in urban areas because of the lack of customers.

      Net Neutrality as initially proposed by Wheeler doesn’t allow for the slowing of data, but does allow for dedicated channels on top of your service. You may still get your 25 megabit to wherever anytime you like (pending congestion), but content provider A pays to get an additional dedicated congestion free 10 megabit on top of that. I wouldn’t do that as it is just more complexity, but I wouldn’t have a problem with others doing it.

      ISPs have never been common carriers. There is no content control.

      Most net neutrality “experts” have no blanking clue how the Internet works.

      Comcast and Time Warner’s merger has nothing to do with ISP competition. Cable ISPs largely don’t overlap.

      There are thousands of independent ISPs. You can go start one right now if you so chose. The hurdles to starting an ISP are less regulatory and more consumer.

  • Cost Causation Lover says:

    John Oliver’s net neutrality piece on Sunday night did a wonderful job laying out the issue and connecting net neutrality to ISP competition (or lack thereof).

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fpbOEoRrHyU

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