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Summary:

The FCC today said it would vote on rules to prevent ISPs from discriminating against the bits flowing across their networks, but it wouldn’t publish the full text of those rules until a few days after the vote due to a compromise with Democratic commissioners.

FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski

The Federal Communications Commission today said it would vote on rules to prevent ISPs from discriminating against the bits flowing across their networks, but it wouldn’t publish the full text of those rules until a few days after its open meeting tomorrow. The delay is a result of the FCC compromise with Democratic commissioners who have said they’d rather sink the network neutrality rules than vote for a bad plan having to address any dissenting views from the commissioners in the order. While the changes outlined in a call today with senior FCC officials are an improvement over the ones proposed three weeks ago by Chairman Julius Genachowski, it’s not clear yet if it will result in a Merry Christmas for content and application providers.

In the call, the two officials laid out the tweaks to the plan, of which the major aspect is that it will make the distinction that broadband is an access service as opposed to an information service. This is a subtle distinction, presumably designed to keep the FCC clear that it’s trying to regulate access to the web as opposed to the web itself. For more on this thinking, check out this post on net neutrality. The FCC also will endeavor to apply that same standard — that broadband is the service that allows someone to go wherever they want on the web — to future forms of access.

By regulating the access, the FCC hopes to create loopholes in the wireline net neutrality rules that will prevent ISPs from using their own managed services offered to subscribers to circumvent the idea of an open Internet as I laid out in this post. It’s also where the FCC will address issues of paid prioritization where an ISP might charge companies like Google for faster delivery of its content to the ISP’s end subscribers.

Other protections in this order are a “robust transparency requirements for wireline and wireless networks,” and a rule preventing both wireless and wireline carriers from blocking websites. On the wireless business the focus will be on preventing mobile operators from blocking services that compete with their own voice or video services, while the wireline rules seek to prevent the blocking of all lawful content. There will be a prohibition against “unreasonable discrimination” on wireline networks as well.

And since rules are only as good as their enforcement, the FCC is proposing that complaints on network neutrality issues (it’s unclear if this means all complaints or only a subset of complaints) will go through a faster decision-making period it calls the “Rocket Docket.” Complaints that are allowed to go through this process are decided up to 105 or 130 days after being accepted to the accelerated process. The FCC will also have the power to set fines and order parties to stop violators of these rules.

As for tiered pricing, the FCC is willing to see if usage-based broadband can be implemented in a consumer friendly manner, and the senior officials both said that the cat fight between Comcast and Level 3 is a peering issue as opposed to a net neutrality issue and thus, isn’t addressed in this order. And therein is the crux of the problem for this network neutrality plan and really, the FCC. Network neutrality will help some parties, especially large application providers, continue to innovate and deliver web services to consumers, but the lack of competition is the problem and even under this somewhat stronger plan there will be loopholes for service providers to slip through and little recourse for the customer to get the broadband service they’d like at a price that’s competitive.

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  1. So my ISP wants to make even more money, what prevents me from running all my traffic through a VPN for $20 a month and not paying the extra charges… or running everything encrypted (SSH, IPSec… etc)

    I just don’t see how this can work effectively. Its not like charging different prices for local/long distance or for adding texting. Multiple services ride over the same port numbers… and the only way they would be able to monitor the usage would be by the ports. So then changing the services file (windows) would trick the ISP. I doubt they are going to use stateful packet inspections for EVERY file to find certain similarities

  2. Brett:

    Yes. We all know you run a wireless ISP. We all know your opinions on the topic. You’ve been shooting your mouth off about it for at least 7 years now, and frankly I’m sick of hearing about it. If you dislike commentary on this site, perhaps you should go read other websites that are more conforming to your way of thinking. I’m sure there are some out there.

    I also understand that you’re anti-regulation as long as it benefits your company. Perhaps you are doing this from entirely altruistic reasons, but can you guarantee the same for every other wireless internet service provider? I sincerely doubt it.

    If you really believe there is competition in broadband, explain how in the HEART of Silicon Valley my broadband options consist of Comcast and crappy ADSL from AT&T. That’s not competition. It’s a duopoly, and it’s the reality for nearly anyone who lives in a major metropolitan area – at last count, more than 50% of the US population.

    I also realize that for pedants like you, making “the Web” synonmous with the big I “Internet” is a horrid travesty, but you might want to see how many other people on the planet have adopted that usage before continuing to rail on about it like you’re the Académie française.

  3. Oh hey, that’s classy. Deleting comments because someone wants to argue with Brett Glass? Nice.

    I’ll just be removing GigaOm from my RSS feed.

  4. Richard Bennett Monday, December 20, 2010

    Paid prioritization doesn’t have anything to do with making some web sites faster than others, it’s a method for making things like video conferencing less prone to jitter and packet loss; I wish reporters could get this right. The GigaOm Pro report on immersive conferencing does a good job of explaining it.

    I’m not sure how well that access/information processing distinction is going to hold up; we don’t access the Internet by DSL and cable, we join it. The web server you run in your home isn’t “accessing,” it’s “being accessed.”

    The overall approach is good, but there are lot of little things that may be troublesome once we see the order.

    1. I think I disagree with you. If I understand the threat of a non-neutral internet, at least as Public Knowledge has outlined it, Comcast buys NBC and then builds a streaming service for NBC content that works better (less jitter, etc) than the one that you can get via Comcast cable internet to (say) Netflix. Consumers prefer Comcast’s service to Netflix’s and Netflix loses subscribers simply b/c of network layer priorities that Comcast has implemented. Net neutrality is supposed to eliminate this unfair technique for competing companies.

      There has always been accommodations in network neutrality rules that I’ve read from FCC to permit “reasonable network management” and no one I’ve read (other than you) has conflated network management from non-neutral behavior such as preferring one website’s traffic over another in the pipes to consumers.

      Maybe I’m misunderstanding your comment?

      1. Public Knowledge has consistently misrepresented this topic, but as they’re an organization of lawyers, it’s not surprising that some of the technical details are over their heads.

        I agree that your example is something that should not be allowed, generally speaking (although you do realize that cable TV channels have higher quality transport than anything on the Internet, don’t you?)

        However, that’s not the only use for paid premium transport. As I said, there are legitimate applications that require specific Quality of Service, and access to that sort of thing has to be limited by an economic arrangement or it has no value (everyone uses high quality all the time, and there’s effectively no high quality.)

  5. OMG Brett! Get off your everyone-works-for-Google rant! It’s getting really old and tired. You resort to picking at semantic technicalities because on the substance you have no real argument. “Widespread and vigorous”….gimme break.

  6. with what has happened with google TV and many streaming websites blocking access we also need to have legislation that bans websites form blocking certain hardware devices, browsers, user agents, etc.

    they do not need to ensure compatibility with everything, but they should not be able to block a compatible device because it is something other than a general purpose computer.

  7. A Net Neutrality Timeline: How We Got Here: Tech News « Tuesday, December 21, 2010

    [...] full order won’t be out for a few days, here’s the gist of what’s in store, as I explained last night: The order contains three sections that set policies around transparency, create a prohibition [...]

  8. What The Web Is Saying: Net Neutrality Rules: Tech News « Tuesday, December 21, 2010

    [...] Neutrality, a drama that has dragged on for years, lurched forward today toward with new rules from the Federal Communications Commission that will impose some basic protections for an open [...]

  9. What The Web Is Saying: Net Neutrality Rules Tuesday, December 21, 2010

    [...] Neutrality, a drama that has dragged on for years, lurched forward today toward with new rules from the Federal Communications Commission that will impose some basic protections for an open [...]

  10. Net Neutrality Rules May Signal A Change in Wireless Pricing: Tech News « Wednesday, December 22, 2010

    [...] up hanging on the net neutrality talks,” Aalbers says. He thinks the compromise, which allows wireless operators some leeway on prioritizing traffic if it’s for “reasonable network management,” and as long as they aren’t [...]

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