The FCC just launched its peering investigation with a call for data

Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Tom Wheeler listens during an open meeting to receive public comment on proposed open Internet notice of proposed rulemaking and spectrum auctions May 15, 2014 at the FCC headquarters in Washington, DC. The FCC has voted in favor of a proposal to reform net neutrality and could allow Internet service providers to charge for faster and higher-quality service. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

The Federal Communication Commission has finally acted on the allegations that certain ISPs are intentionally throttling traffic from providers such as Netflix as a way to charge content providers additional fees. Chairman Tom Wheeler issued a statement on Friday noting that the agency has asked for documentation about peering, and it currently has the terms of the agreements signed between Netflix and Verizon and Netflix and Comcast.

This doesn’t mean that the agency will regulate the interconnection agreements between ISP networks and content provider networks, but it does mean that the consumer cry for action on this issue has been heard and the FCC is looking into it. Ideally, the data collected by the FCC will be shared in a somewhat timely manner via a public report or data dump, but that might be too much to hope for given how secretive these agreements are.

However, I am glad Wheeler is taking the action he promised me back in January, when I brought the issue up with him. From a statement issued today:

“To be clear, what we are doing right now is collecting information, not regulating. We are looking under the hood. Consumers want transparency. They want answers. And so do I.

In all of the articles on this topic — which is complicated, but has real implications for consumers because it turns internet capacity into something that more closely resembles cable TV.I’ve called for the FCC to get data so we can understand if there is a problem. Are ISPs abusing their power as the sole provider of last mile connectivity and trying to charge companies like Netflix fees to get onto their networks?

Given that in much of the world interconnection agreements are informal and free (and even in the U.S. many interconnection agreements between big name content providers and ISPs are formal, but unpaid) this is an issue worth scrutiny. And if the FCC finds that the lack of a competitive last-mile broadband market is enabling a few ISPs to behave badly it should act.

But hopefully the threat of greater transparency will be enough to solve this problem.

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