The FCC went ahead as promised and voted today to roll back the network neutrality framework we have been working with for the last few years. The vote was 3-2 along party lines, surprising absolutely nobody.
What exactly this will mean is unclear. If they want to, service providers will be able to create fast/slow lanes and to prioritize their own content. But while there will be no regulatory barrier to doing such things, whatever they do will still be judged in the court of public opinion. And that court will be empowered by the media, which will be just waiting for a chance to press the outrage button as well.
Hence, I don’t think we’re going to see things happen so explicitly on the consumer side. Rather, what we will probably see is that service providers will attempt to put pressure on the big content guys somehow and get their pound of flesh that way. The process will probably be behind closed doors though, and opaque to us except where talks break down and something gets slowed down or blocked or something.
FCC Chairman Ajit Pai argues that the new paradigm will boost innovation by taking the government out of the micromanagement of the internet. I hope so, but I’m skeptical of the idea that the innovation pie gets much bigger — nor does it need to, if current levels represent stifled innovation then I’m almost afraid to see what unstifled could mean. One could argue that rather than boosting the incentive to innovate overall, it will simply shift some of that incentive from the content providers to the service providers.
One piece of the net neutrality rollback that isn’t getting much coverage is that of interconnection and peering. Part of the previous regime enabled the FCC to intervene in peering disputes, which prompted a wave of new interconnection agreements between eyeball networks, transit networks, and content providers. Whether the resulting stability could be at risk now is unclear, especially given the rapid changes in the interconnection world overall over the past few years.
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