Pursuing Net Neutrality

Pursuing Net Neutrality

In continuing to examine the three primary section of Title II of the Communications Act, today, we look at Section 202. As a reminder, the review is because of the major announcement made by the FCC Chairman to redefine broadband carriers by using Title I of the Act and 6 sections of Title II. Today we will address Section 202.

Reading Section 202 of the Act is an interesting exercise as the focus of the act is on Broadcast Ownership. However, it becomes applicable to net neutrality as it contains a phrase stating that carriers are prohibited from making "any unjust or unreasonable discrimination in charges, practices..." and they cannot "subject any particular person, class of persons, or locality to any undue or unreasonable prejudice or disadvantage." Both of these phrases get to the heart of the issue as presented by various ASPs, such as Google, the Comcast lawsuit and comments from Sprint and AT&T.

In the case of Comcast, treating different applications and services unequally or in a prejudicial manner would have end. They would not selectively be able to slow down traffic that they considered disruptive to their network or competitive to their cable or VoIP offerings. Over-the-top VoIP would become a protected service along with gaming, on-demand video and other broadband consuming applications. Of course, there is a downside to this. Major consumers of broadband would have the potential to hog available capacity thereby reducing the quality of service for the occasional or low capacity user. This can be addressed in multiple ways by the ISPs. The key to their various options lies in the phrase "undue or unreasonable prejudice." Carriers are not prevented from charging different prices for broadband consumption. And where last year I was clearly reluctant to support such tiered pricing, I have modified my position.

If we look at the blogs of two weeks ago when I analyzed broadband costs and speeds in the US versus the members of the G7, prices in the US can move upward slightly without impacting the adoption rate. However, the speeds offered by the various US carriers need to increase sharply. If the ISPs increase the speeds with minor increases in price, then customers will have the option of selecting the level of service needed for their various uses of the Internet.

It is clear that the road chosen by the FCC is fraught with pitfalls, misleading turns and choices. Also, since we are human, whatever is ultimately done will not be perfect. However, even AT&T released a statement supporting this move by saying "the "unreasonable discrimination" prohibition in section 202(a) "is both administrable and indispensable to the sound administration of the nation's telecommunications laws."

I am not Pollyanna believing that all will be good. Too much is riding on this for Broadvox's and other ITSPs success. However, I do not want to approach this as a naysayer or with the belief, the sky is falling.

Section 254 on Friday...

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