FCC Issues Compromise Rules on Net Neutrality


On December 21st, 2010, the FCC gave wireless Internet providers permission to restrict based on content - leaving the door slightly open for "paid prioritization" and allowing the wireless providers to selectively block certain apps. That's why many observers - those who ardently believe in "net neutrality" - are upset today.

The good news? There is a non-discrimination principle which prevents mobile ISPs from simply blocking websites.

The not-so-good news? Under the new FCC rules, wireless Internet providers may still be able to charge different amounts to get on a new Internet fast lane (i.e., the FCC said "it is unlikely that pay for priority would satisfy the 'no unreasonable discrimination' standard," but "paid prioritization" on the wireless Internet has NOT been 100% ruled out).

More good news? There is a prohibition on blocking competing voice applications (e.g., Skype).

The really bad news? Wireless Internet providers can block apps. So, if you have an AT&T or Verizon smart phone, under the new rules those providers could flat-out refuse to offer some cool new app through their app store and (apparently) they can now charge app makers a premium for access to popular apps like PayPal, Facebook, or Netflix. Don't take my word for this: "FCC wireless bureau chief Ruth Milkman said the net-neutrality rules passed on Tuesday would not stop a wireless app store from blocking applications."

To sum up, the new rules disfavor but do not rule out "paid prioritization," which many people fear will lead to a "fast lane" on the wireless Internet where searches will lead to the highest bidder and indie films that won't play on mobile devices because of slow speeds. Another huge problem is that your access to apps can be limited by your wireless provider.

As usual it boils down to money: After the Dec. 21, 2010 vote, if you're building a website for your film, you cannot be 100% confident that wireless ISPs will let you reach their wireless devices at a reasonable speed. This lingering threat of "paid prioritization" is apparently what the WGA East was worried about: "[T]he FCC vote will diminish our members' ability to create and distribute innovative content and audiences' ability to watch the content of their choice."

Based on what I've read, I suspect the WGA East response is over the top. But, if you're building an app, you might now have to pay big bucks to get into a wireless app store. And non-studio films may find themselves at a disadvantage - because Verizon and AT&T can argue that their wireless networks can't handle all the content - so, while studio films will play flawlessly on 4G networks, your little film may stutter and stop - the victim of endless loading and caching.

Finally, you should know that numerous Republicans (decrying any government regulation, even if that regulation is narrowly drawn to protect independent innovators from the crushing power of monopolistic Internet providers) have already announced their intention to challenge these new rules in court and in Congress.

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SamKam said...
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