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Summary:

The chairman of the FCC is willing to step into the fray on peering fights if it hurts innovation, but he’s not willing to tell us what he plans to do about the big defeat for network neutrality.

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photo: FCC

The chairman of the FCC struggles with his Netflix stream too. In a conversation with me at the State of the Net conference in Washington DC, Chairman Tom Wheeler expressed the same frustrations with his Netflix streams that consumers have in forums around the internet. And because he’s the chairman of the agency in charge of ensuring that the companies providing broadband remain competitive and consumer-friendly, he’s in a position to do something about it.

When asked about what the FCC’s stance is on the ongoing peering fights between ISPs and application providers like Netflix or Google, the Chairman said that the agency would look into the practice with the eye to ensuring that parties are not hurting the consumer nor engaging in anti-competitive practices.

Wheeler’s words don’t offer much for folks worried about their video streams, but it’s an issue the chairman is aware of and something he relates to his so-called “Network Compact,” the framework he’s using to governing the transition to all-IP networks. That framework includes this idea of interconnection and the fact that the internet isn’t one entity but a bunch of networks that interconnect. And since it’s at those interconnection points that the problems associated with peering are happening, the chairman believes the agency should “stay on top of the issue.”

Wheeler also avoided comment on how the agency will handle the results of the network neutrality decision, telling me “I’m not going there yet.” He did clarify this comments about looking at network neutrality issues on a case by case basis, saying that he would not be looking at individual cases, but rather certain classes of violations to build a concept around what can happen on broadband networks. He didn’t seem inclined to enshrine any of those concepts into rules, however.

In short, after my conversation I believe that Wheeler has the historical background and a real understanding of how the internet functions today, but I’m unsure if he intends to keep things functioning this way. We’ll still have to wait and see.

Updated: Checked out the video of the conversation from CSPAN embedded below:

  1. How important is it to keep the Internet working the way it always has? It has always seemed to me that the Internet is a very immature technology that’s pretty thoroughly hobbled by the limitations of the technology that prevailed when the core protocols were designed in the 1970s and also by its inventors’ lack of knowledge about the issues the Internet faces today. The original plan, after all, was to use IPv4 to run an experiment then replace with something better as we learned more about global networks. That didn’t happen, and even IPv6 fails to deliver any new capability.

    It’s fine for the Internet to disrupt industries, and it’s also fine to disrupt the Internet so it becomes a better platform for disruption. The fallacy in net neutrality is the belief that the Internet as it now exists is as good as it can ever be.

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